Merrick takes risks and is rewarded in Lombard Insurance Classic

His natural risk-taking nearly cost him dearly, but Merrick Bremner took his chances on his way to an eight-under-par 65 on Friday in the first round of the R850,000 Lombard Insurance Classic.

It wasn’t enough for the lead, but it was an eye-catching round on the 6,140-metre Royal Swazi Spa course, and it put him in a share of second with Justin Harding and Louis de Jager.

Desvonde Botes converted the adrenalin rush of an eagle two on the opening hole into a nine-under-par 63 to take the lead on a day when 15 players in the 72-man professional field were four-under-par or better.

“I only had to get up and down three times in my whole round to save par – on the fourth, on the 17th and on the 18th,” said Bremner. “I had 15 putts for eagle or birdie today. I had only 24 putts in the round. That can’t be too bad.”

One such up-and-down for par came on the 502-metre 17th, where he hit his approach in the water. “I don’t want to make excuses, but I had to squint into the setting sun to gauge the distance, and that’s not easy,” he said.

“I’ve eagled the 17th more times than any other on this course. It’s an eight-iron in for me, so if I was going to lay up, I’d have to hit it only 60 yards. There’s no point,” he added.

With no dropped shots in his round, Bremner took a leaf from Botes’ book. De Jager also had an error-free card.

Harding, on the other hand, dropped a shot on the 14th – his fifth for the day after he started on the 10th. “I said to my caddie that 145 to the pin was the exact yardage for nine-iron, but I was scared if I put it up there, the wind would take it,” he said. “So I tried to chip an eight-iron, and it caught the back of the green and rolled away.”

Unlike all the other players in contention, Harding battled his putter throughout. “I had 31 putts out there, and that’s a lot in a round of 64. I had two birdies with two putts, and missed out on the par-fives. I made par on 17 with an eight-iron in my hand, which was naughty, and I hit three-wood and nine-iron in to 12 to 15 feet and wasn’t able to make that eagle,” he said.

Said De Jager: “My putting has come good. I’ve been hitting the ball well for the last few months, but the putting was a problem. I spent some time with my coach after last week, and we worked on my rhythm. I’ve been kind of stabbing at the ball, and I got my stroke back today. I never felt as if I was going to drop a shot. It was a good feeling.”

The threesome in second had a one-stroke lead over Jacques Blaauw, who returned to the belly-putter of his amateur days for his 67. He was a further two strokes clear of a group of five players on five-under 67.

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