Six-birdie streak gives Justin Investec Cup lead

Justin Walters reeled off a string of six successive birdies on the back nine on Thursday to take the lead in the Investec Cup after the first round played at the course at Millvale Private Retreat.

He held a single stroke edge over Jean Hugo, with Jaco van Zyl and Garth Mulroyin a share of third on six-under-par 66. “I’m somewhat surprised,” said Walters. “I don’t know where that came from. I have been playing well, but the difference is the putter. If a few putts go in, it makes a world of difference.”

The R1-million tournament forms the climax to the Chase to the Investec Cup, in which the top 30 players who have scored points in Sunshine Tour events since last October’s BMG Classic are also playing for a share of the R5-million Bonus Pool.

And, as things stood at the end of the first round of the event which will continue at Rustenburg Golf Club for the second round and at Lost City Golf Club for the final two rounds, Walters will jump from the 18th he started at in the Chase to the Investec Cup to fifth.

It started a little slowly for Walters – as it did for everyone – as his three birdies on the opening nine were somewhat blemished by a bogey as he struggled to get to grips with the course.

For most of the players, it was an unfamiliar journey around the 6,783-metre par 72 Millvale Private Retreat course. It showed as many of them started tentatively. “It’s the same for all of us,” said Danie van Tonder who was one-over for his opening round. “It’s a great course, and a really tough test of our games. I just wish I could play it again tomorrow.”

For Investec-sponsored Christiaan Basson, who carded a one-under 71, things weren’t quite as new: “I’ve played here twice before,” he said. “It’s a great course. The fairway bunkering is really good, and can catch you out, and the rough is not something you can easily escape from.”

But Walters hit the turn and things immediately got hot for him as he made the first of those six consecutive birdies at the 11th. “I don’t do that often,” he said of that impressive run. “I think I’ve done it once in my career before this. Everything kind of fell into place. I hit the right shots at the right time, I got a couple of good breaks here and there, but it was just solid golf and I took advantage of what I created.”

Hugo also took a while to come to grips with the unfamiliarity of his surroundings. “I wasn’t hitting it that well on the first nine, but on the back nine, I hit it very nicely. I hit some good shots and you can score on this course if you hit it like that.”

Van Zyl continued his fine recent form, and he didn’t drop a shot on his way to his 66 – he was the only player in the field to escape without a bogey.

And Walters put his finger on what can turn this event into a birdie-fest: “Tomorrow’s a totally new course so you don’t have the first good round pressurising you,” he said. “I hope I can continue the trend and keep up with Jean.”

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