Stenson on the prowl at Serengeti
Henrik Stenson fired a six-under par round of 66 at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate to find himself in a tie for second with Kyalami’s Matthew Carvell after the first round of the South African Open.
The pair sit two shots behind Merrick Bremner, who earlier took the event by storm as he fired an eight-under 64 to tie the course record.
Stenson’s round included a sensational eagle at the par-four 17th after he drove the green. However, the Swede was simply pleased with his game and is enthusiastic about his chances this week.
“I played really well today. I drove the ball as well as I’ve done in the last couple of years. I hit a lot of good shots and set up a lot of birdie chances. My putting was not bad, but it wasn’t great either, so if I had been on fire on the greens it would have been really low today.
“But we’re very pleased with the start and with how I played today. If I can carry this on during the week then I should be in pretty good shape,” Stenson said.
The course has presented a stern test to the players, and birdies weren’t always easy to come by on the first day. But Stenson believes that his length off the tee gives him a significant edge over his colleagues.
“It’s a huge advantage to be long off the tee. You can really take some bunkers out of play and turn some holes into nothing. If you hit a good tee ball you might be left with a sand-wedge, where some other guys have to go sideways away from traps.
"They might have to hit an eight-iron, and that makes a huge difference coming into some of the tricky pin positions,” he explained.
Stenson will feel he is well poised to mount a strong challenge this week, but it was Bremner who stole the headlines after his remarkable 64 opened up a two-shot lead at the conclusion of the first day.
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SCINTILLATING FRONT NINE
Bremner began his round with two consecutive birdies, and managed four more in a scintillating performance on the front nine that saw him reach the turn with an astonishing score of 30.
“I played fantastically on the first nine, I didn’t miss a green. The only chance where it wasn’t makeable was at 6, but the rest were all within 10 feet. So in theory I could have shot 28, but I was happy with 30. I mean, it’s the start of the SA Open and to be six-under through nine is a big thing. It was good fun,” he said.
The man from Pretoria managed two more birdies on the back nine without any blemishes on the card, and he was justifiably pleased to have controlled things so well.
“I made the turn, and I still hit good shots. But I started thinking a bit more and playing clever golf as opposed to the aggression I normally show. I wanted to hold my round together and post a decent score and not come in with five-under or four-under,” he said.
Bremner has every reason to be confident going forward, and plans to carry on from where he left off when he tees it up again tomorrow afternoon.
“I will go out with the same attitude as I went out with today and make the same decisions. I’ll treat tomorrow as a new day and forget about what score I am on. Obviously I’ll try and hit fairways and hit greens, because otherwise you’re not going to score.
“But I think aggression is still key around here, especially early on in your round. You can present yourself with more opportunities if you are aggressive,” Bremner said.
Scotland’s Craig Lee earlier shot a 67, and he now has Bloemfontein’s Alex Haindl for company in third place.
Charl Schwartzel is a further stroke back, and other South Africans at four-under par include Darren Fichardt, Oliver Bekker and Jake Roos.
Martin Kaymer will also be another man to watch, after he bravely recovered from an opening-hole double bogey to put himself back in contention with a two-under score of 70.
And with so many great players chasing Bremner, it should make for fascinating viewing when play gets underway on Friday morning at 6:15am.