14th February 2019 | Sunshine Tour
Nortje’s Valentine’s Day 63 leads Dimension Data Pro-Am
Riekus Nortje won the heart of the Outeniqua course at Fancourt on Valentine’s Day with a flawless nine-under-par 63 to ease into a one-stroke lead in first round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am.
He made seven birdies and an eagle to put himself a shot clear of Justin Walters and another ahead of Jaco van Zyl, who also both completed their opening rounds on Outeniqua. The players play a round on each of Outeniqua, The Links at Fancourt and Montagu ahead of the cut, and final round action will be over Montagu on Sunday.
For such a successful courtship, Nortje’s technique had an element of hit-and-miss about it. “My game’s been feeling quite good the last little while, but I just couldn’t get everything together,” he said. “There is always some little aspect that is off, so today I just decided to hit and what happens will happen.”
The relaxed approach paid off immediately. “I thought about hitting four-iron off the tee on one,” he said. “I decided against it and took driver. I was probably about 30 yards short of the green, hit a great pitch to about four or five feet and made the putt. I hit the green in two on the second and I holed quite a long putt. That was already a great start. I made another long putt for birdie on the third. It was a dream start.”
It’s easy to let such a good start slip away, but Nortje had just the right amount of persuasive power to keep things going. “You can get ahead of yourself very quickly with a start like that, so I just tried to take it one shot at a time and that worked really well for me,” he said. “I had a tough par-three after the first three holes. I hit a solid shot there, made a solid two-putt and then I hit a great second on the fifth. So that kind of kept the momentum going, but I did have to keep myself calm after the fast start.”
Nortje, who has won just once on the Sunshine Tour, in the 2017 Mopani Redpath Zambia Open in Kitwe, has had a rough time of it in the 2018-19 season, making just five cuts with a best finish of a share of seventh back in June last year at Sun City.
He’s only too aware of what this fast start means for him this week. “It was very important to get a good start on Outeniqua,” he said. “Montagu is playing tough at the moment, with the greens a little bit firmer, but they’re new greens. There have been some low scores there, so the scores are out there. You’ve just got to put your head down and grind.”
The best round on Montagu came from England’s Toby Tree with his six-under-par 66. “I’m very pleased with that round,” he said. “I missed the cut by one in each of the last two weeks. I’ve been working hard after being injured at the end of last year. I’ve been playing alright, just not holing any putts. I got off to a frustrating start, but I just hung in there and got rewarded at the end.
“The greens are firm on Montagu. Luckily, I drove it well – I only missed one fairway all day, and the one I did miss made it difficult to keep on the green because they were so firm.”
Tree’s round at Montagu was matched by Sweden’s Philip Eriksson.
At the challenging par-73 Links at Fancourt, Ireland’s Neil O’Briain carded a bogey-free six-under-par 67. “They’re all tough golf courses, but we were lucky on The Links today because the wind wasn’t very strong,” he said. “I was struggling with the driver in the practice round, so I spent a good hour-and-a-half on it last night and it really paid off. I didn’t really hole a lot of putts. I hit a couple of really nice shots and then took advantage of the par-fives, and the longest putt I had for par was about a foot. That makes it a lot easier.”
They’re all going to overhaul Nortje, who is staying at home with his parents this week and who seems to have a recipe which will possibly also seduce the other courses. “I made a couple of really solid putts, but I feel I still left one or two out there that I could have made, or done a little better. But overall, everything was pretty good. My tee shots could have improved a little, but my irons and wedges were pretty good,” he said.