Riekus Nortje fired a five-under-par 67 to open his Lombard Insurance Classic campaign and placed himself within three shots of the early lead at the Royal Swazi Spa Country Club.
That was after he had to go through the rigours of the pre-qualifier a day before the tournament – that golfing equivalent of the poor cousins in Formula One battling their way through the qualifying laps for a decent spot on the grid.
“Getting a competitive round in the pre-qualifier helps a lot in the first round,” said Nortje. “Confidence-wise, it’s big – to know that you can do well on the course, It really gives you a big boost.”
Nortje carded a four-under-par 68 in the pre-qualifier, which was topped by Rhys West at five-under-par 67. It got him into the tournament and gave him a shot at improving his 2014 Sunshine Tour season, during which he has missed the cut in the four tournaments he has got into.
“The putter’s starting to warm up,” said Nortje. “That’s helped a lot. It helped me a lot in the pre-qualifier. And I hit the ball better in the first round, and didn’t make as many putts as I did in the pre-qualifier.”
That kind of ball striking gave him a great finish to his opening round after he turned in one-over-par 37. He made eagles on the 12th and 17th and birdies on 13 and 18 to back up those big gains in impressive fashion. “The putts were both from about 15 feet,” he said, “but they were still decent shots to get the ball on for two – especially on 17.”
He finished his first two years on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit in the mid-80s. A good finish in Swaziland can help his third year become the turning point in his professional career.