He called it a lucky eagle, but when Matt Nixon of England made three on the 477-metre (522-yard) par-five eighth, he moved into a one-stroke lead in the first round of the South African Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club on Thursday.
He held that edge over Italy’s Marco Crespi and South African Jbe’ Kruger, with Christiaan Basson and Retief Goosen a further shot back on six-under-par 66. Four players shared sixth, including 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and his younger brother Attie – together with another Italian in Andrea Pavan and Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen.
“I didn’t play the eighth that well, to be fair,” said Nixon who started his round on the 10th and made three consecutive birdies to get things going. “My dad always says I play par-fives badly. It wasn’t the greatest tee shot and it wasn’t the greatest second shot in the world, so I had a little chip from over the right bunker.
“I played it really nicely and thought it was going to go about six feet past, but it ended up turning in nicely and dropping. I suspect there will be a text message from my dad waiting for me,” he laughed.
Nixon finished 105th in the 2013 Race to Dubai on the European Tour, narrowly retaining his card, and, with winter setting in back in England, was not able to practice as much as he would have liked to ahead of the SA Open Championship, which is the first event of the 2014 season on the European Tour.
“I did have a five-hour session with my sports psychologist in Dubai on the way here,” he joked, “but maybe now I have to accept that having low expectations is the way to go.”
After his opening three birdies, he made two more ahead of the turn, which he reached in 31, but then a bogey on two slowed his charge. But only momentarily. He birdied the second and the seventh ahead of his eagle and found himself in front of the field.
“I went out there with an open mind and then kept hitting it close and knocking the putts in,” he said. “I putted really well. I had 22 puts today and I think that’s the lowest I’ve ever had in a round of golf.
“I must have been doing something right on the greens! I feel quite good on them and the pace is really quick. I hit a few past, but I managed to hole-out really well and if I can keep doing that then the next three days will be alright,” he added.
He has something of a gathering of eagles around him, waiting to swoop: Kruger seemed to have finally found the form which has eluded him for most of this year, and Goosen was ominously impressive. And with Charl Schwartzel not dropping a single shot on the way to his 67, Nixon will have to keep his wits about him if he is to keep his challenge going.
“I tried to just take it one shot at a time today and not worry about what was going on around me or what score I was going to shoot,” he said. “If I can keep doing that it will stand me in good stead.”