Late starters Simon Dyson and Trevor Fisher Junior claimed the first-round lead of the European Tour/Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned Tshwane Open at the Els Club Copperleaf on Thursday after a weather-curtailed opening round.
Dyson, teeing off at midday in match 29 of 39 to go off the first tee, staged a spectacular finish to his round as he collected four successive birdies to post a seven-under-par 65.
Fisher Junior teed off 50 minutes later and his round was suspended by a large storm that arrived at Copperleaf at 5.30pm, but the South African had already moved to seven-under-par through 16 holes by then.
Both Fisher Junior and Englishman Dyson played bogey-free rounds.
Earlier in the day, South Africans Jared Harvey and Erik van Rooyen, and Englishman Ross Fisher had claimed a share of the early lead with 66s, before being overtaken by Dyson and Fisher Junior.
South Africans Darren Fichardt, through 17 holes, and Danie van Tonder were also on six-under-par when play was called off for the day.
South African Open champion Morten Orum Madsen was in a six-man group on five-under-par, having eagled the par-four seventh hole and then picking up a second eagle on the par-five 15th when he hit his approach shot stone-dead. The Dane was about to hit his second shot on the 18th hole when play was suspended.
Dyson, a six-time European Tour winner, credited his fine round to his ability to recover from lost causes.
“It was a really nice finish, set up by three really good up-and-downs on the three previous holes. On 15 and 16 I also managed to get up-and-down from near the green for birdies and it’s my lowest round for a few years,” Dyson said.
The 36-year-old is also on the comeback trail after a European Tour disciplinary hearing ruled in December that he had been guilty of a deliberate but un-premeditated breach of the rules when he was disqualified from the BMW Masters in Shanghai in October for illegally tapping down a spike mark before he putted. He was fined £30,000 and given a two-month suspended ban, but he admitted there were times when he feared his professional golfing career was dead.
“Today’s round definitely shows I’m in a good state of mind. The controversy gave me my love of the game back, there was a chance it was going to be taken away from me. It made me knuckle down and really enjoy the game again, which isn’t bad in my 14th year on tour,” Dyson said.
Young Van Rooyen, who turned pro last year after playing American college golf for the University of Minnesota, led the qualifiers into the tournament with a 66, and he repeated that score on Thursday, although he admitted the strain of pre-qualifying for every tournament was taking its toll.
“The qualifiers are tough, it’s like a sprint because you only have one round. And then the actual tournament is like a marathon straight afterwards. You’re so happy and pumped that you’ve qualified, but then you have to re-set so you don’t lose focus on the first day. I am getting tired, I won’t lie, it’s quite a lot of pressure and a lot of golf,” Van Rooyen said.
But winning a co-sanctioned event changes lives and Van Rooyen is in line to not have to worry about qualifying any more.
Ross Fisher, number 82 in the world and the second-highest ranked golfer in the field, is lurking dangerously just one shot back and, ominously, says he feels quite comfortable playing in South Africa.
“My game feels in good shape and I don’t know what it is, I just enjoy playing down here and I seem to play quite well. The long game still feels like it’s there and if I can hole a few more putts then I think there will be some really low scores from me,” the 2010 Ryder Cup player said.
George Coetzee, the highest-ranked golfer in the field in 53rd place, is in a tie for 36th after shooting a 70, while defending champion Dawie van der Walt is in trouble on five-over-par through 15 holes.