European golfers have dominated the opening day of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club, with an Irishman, seven Englishmen, a Frenchman and a Spaniard all in the top 13 in what is certainly a bad joke for the local contingent.
South African golfers have won all seven previous editions of the Africa Open, but they are going to have a hard time keeping the trophy at home this time around, with just three golfers – Neil Schietekat, Oliver Bekker and Trevor Fisher Junior featuring high up the leaderboard.
Ireland’s Kevin Phelan, who has been tipped as one of the rising stars of European golf, claimed three successive birdies from the fifth hole, having started on the ninth, to post a five-under-par 67 and claim the lead. The 24-year-old has been in good form in his second full season on tour, finishing in a tie for second in last week’s Joburg Open after shooting a 66 on the final day.
He was joined late in the day by Matt Ford, who had been to qualifying school nine times before finally claiming his card last year. The Englishman posted a 66 on the opening day of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, and yesterday he was arguably even more impressive in shooting a bogey-free 67 in blustery conditions on the East Coast.
The English dominance of the summer continued with Richard Bland, David Howell and John Parry all in the tie for third on four-under-par, alongside Schietekat, the leading South African, and Spaniard Eduardo de la Riva, who started in the most brilliant fashion with an eagle at the first and three more birdies before a double-bogey at the ninth halted the momentum.
Bekker and Fisher Junior are in the group on three-under, with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, the former world number one amateur, his compatriots Tom Lewis and Chris Lloyd, and Frenchman Gregory Havret.