Attie Schwartzel fought off the effects of an abscess in his mouth on Wednesday to fire a three-under-par 69 and take the first-round lead in the R600,000 Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Langebaan Country Estate.
On a day when play started late because of the darkness associated with the rain which came in squalls throughout the day, and on which an icy wind blew, Schwartzel fought off pain and discomfort as well as bogeys on the seventh and 10th holes, and closed with eagles on 12 and 18 to be one clear of Heinrich Bruiners, Justin Harding and Titch Moore all on two-under-par.
“I’ve got anti-biotics, so I’m fine,” said Schwarztel, but that underplays how difficult it must have been on a day where fighting off cold as well as the effects of wind and rain made scoring incredibly difficult –only nine players in the 74-man field broke par.
“It was very cold and windy and raining at times,” said Schwarztel, “and I told myself I’d be happy with level par. But I made a few putts here and there, so I’m happy to have kept the big numbers off the card.”
He also took advantage of the occasions when the wind was behind him to make his eagles: “I hit driver and seven-iron on 12 to about 20 feet and I made that putt,” he said, “and on the 18th I made the putt from off the green after driver and eight-iron – that was about a 50-footer, so it was a bit of a bomber!”
Behind him, Bruiners was solid after his maiden victory two weeks ago, keeping errors to a minimum and making four birdies in a round which fed off the confidence that comes from winning. “I got to a point where I was saying to myself that I had to be making birdies on the front nine,” he said, “but then I just relaxed and started enjoying myself and it all felt good again.”
Harding was playing his first competitive round after taking a break after his first Open Championship appearance, and was pleased to get a sub-par round under his belt in the tough conditions.
Moore, who is from Port Elizabeth and is used to windy golf, found the rain and cold a little disconcerting, but managed to make some putts on his way to his 70. “My putting has been the problem for me,” he said, “even though I have been playing well recently. So a few went in today, and that makes a difference.”
The forecast is for the wind to die down for the remaining two rounds, and it’s not certain whether the swelling from Schwartzel’s abscess will follow suit. But he will take heart from his opening round.