Oliver Bekker capitalised on a fast start on Thursday to take a share of the first round lead of the Telkom Business PGA Championship at Country Club Johannesburg.
He carded a seven-under-par 65 to hold a one-stroke lead with Ulrich van den Berg over 2011 champion George Coetzee and Shaun Smith, with Ruan de Smidt and Christiaan Basson a further stroke back.
Bekker started his round on the back nine of the Woodmead course at Country Club Johannesburg, and picked up six birdies in two three-hole bursts, from the 12th to the 14th and the 16th to the 18th. But things cooled for him on his way in, and a bogey on six after two more birdies had taken him eight under effectively halted any progress against par for him. “It’s frustrating, because it’s happened to me a few times this year,” he said. “The bogey I made was on a par-five, which is a hole where you think you can pick up a shot. That broke the momentum completely.”
Before that, Bekker was just enjoying himself and trying not to overthink things as the birdies kept coming. “Normally you just try to keep it going. If I had shot three or four under on my second nine then I would have been really happy.
“Today I wanted to get to 10-under-par, so I didn’t get defensive and I continued attacking. I set myself a target, which I don’t always do, because it comes down to how you feel on the day. I felt like I was swinging it really nicely and I believed that if I kept it going I would shoot a really low score.”
Van den Berg had a quiet opening nine after starting his round on the first, but cranked up the heat on the back nine. “It was a slow start to the day and I hit a lot of great shots and didn’t make any putts,” he said. “I spun around the turn and made a whole heap of putts and got busy with a bunch of birdies, which was nice. That cooled down the frustration a little bit, because it gets upsetting when you’re hitting it close and they’re not going in.”
There were no such frustrations for Smith and Coetzee. “If someone said at the beginning of the day I would make six-under I would have grabbed it and run,” said Smith.
And Coetzee hit the fairways without a practice round to familiarise himself with a course he knows really well anyway. “I can picture every hole and remember the wind like it was yesterday,” he said. “I didn’t really play a practice round this week, but I remember every hole on this course and I think it helps. It’s a new week and a couple of years later so we’ll see how it goes.”
For Bekker, it’s about keeping it together now: “I’ve been swinging it well for the last three months now and if I can keep hitting it onto the fairway and onto the green then I’ll keep giving myself a look at birdie.
“It’s always tough to put everything together and for an event like this you need to have everything sharp and well-oiled. Hopefully this week will be that week for me,” he added.