A strong finish took Riekus Nortje to five-under-par on Thursday, earning the rookie a one-stroke lead during round one of the Sunshine Big Easy TourÂs ERPM tournament, presented by Stonehage.
ÂIÂm very happy. I finished with three birdies, but other than that it was just solid golf. All round it was pretty good Â the putts just dropped here and there. I just knew I had to get it as close as possible and get it in the hole,Â he said.
The Fancourt Foundation graduate made an impressive eight birdies during the day, and was pleased to take a one-stroke lead over Welshman Stuart Clark ahead of the final round on Friday.
ÂI putted very well, and hit a lot of greens,Â said Nortje. ÂThatÂs what you have to do on this course Â itÂs quite tight, so the more fairways you hit, the more greens you hit, the better.Â
The 21-year-old has shown promise throughout his rookie year, making the cut at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, Telkom PGA Championship and the Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open. He has also played respectable golf on the Big Easy Tour, finishing tied 33rd at Houghton and 20th at Observatory.
After failing to pre-qualify for the Sunshine TourÂs Sun City Challenge earlier this week, Nortje headed for ERPM, where his straight-forward approach paid off over the 6,679-metre course. He turned in 34 and continued to shine from there, carding 33 over his second loop and reaching the clubhouse at five-under.
ÂThis season has been a bit up-and-down,Â he said. ÂIÂve missed a couple of pre-qualifiers Â IÂve even been in three playoffs for a spot after finishing on the number. ItÂs been a little bit disappointing, but luckily IÂve made a couple of cuts. Today has been a lot better, because I feel more comfortable. That does quite a lot for my confidence.Â
For the first time he will tee up in the final three-ball, and was optimistic about being in contention. ÂIÂve worked hard lately, although IÂve been struggling to make putts. Today was different and IÂll go into tomorrow with a lot of confidence and IÂll just stick to my gameplan,Â he said.
Clark finished the day at four-under. He has struggled through the season, but hard work with his new coach Â Ashley Roestoff Â made him feel ready to contend. ÂIt was not too bad today. ItÂs about time, because IÂve been working quite hard on my game and I think itÂs paying off. I played the par threes well and just putted very well. The greens are very quick here, but my stroke is decent,Â he said.