He might be six off the pace, but Justin Walters is well satisfied with his even-par 72 in the first round of the Volvo China Open at Binhai Lake Golf Club in Tianjin.
With Robert-Jan Derksen out front at six-under-par, Walters might have had cause for concern, but after he bounced back from a potentially crippling five-over-par 10 on the 12th – his third of the day – to go into the second day on even terms, he had every reason to smile.
It could have been even worse, too. He made bogey on the 14th, two holes later, but he began his recovery with consecutive birdies on 17 and 18 ahead of the turn. A bogey on one set him back again, but then five consecutive birdies from three to seven put the smile back on his face.
“After the 12th, I wasn’t smiling,” he said. “I think I hit the same shot six times, or five times, with the same result. It was a horrible hole to go through, because I actually hit two great shots to get there. I was about 30 feet from the hole for two on that par-five, and I had a big bank in front of me. I just missed the first one – I tried to hit a hybrid. It just missed the top and rolled all the way down.
“Then I hit it again, and it actually hit a bump and caught the slope left and rolled down further left. Then I put my hybrid away and got my putter out and hit it up to the top. It actually stopped at the top and I was walking up there, and a gust of wind blew it back down the hill.
“Then I hit another one up to the top which I actually thought was okay, and it did the same thing. And then I wound one, still didn’t get it on the green. By then I was over the hole, and I just went and hit it again, and I three-putted from there, which was probably the worst part about the whole thing.
“To walk off with a 10 was pretty demoralising, especially knowing how hard the course was ahead of me. What happened after that was special, and I’m proud of it. And I’m quite happy with the result in the end. I hope I can take advantage of it now,” he added.
Two other South Africans are in the field: Keith Horne was on one-over 73, and defending champion Branden Grace was on two-over-par 74.
For Walters, bouncing back was important. “This game is crazy, and half the time, we don’t know why we’re doing it,” he said. “That was one of those moments that can really demoralise you, but it asks how much substance you have. If you can come back from it, then somehow the rewards on the other side are better.”