Sterne, Kieffer lead Joburg Open
Eight-under par rounds of 63 from South Africa’s Richard Sterne and Germany’s Maximilian Kieffer at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club’s West course were enough to seize a one-stroke lead after day one of the Joburg Open in docile conditions on Thursday.
Durban-born Bryce Easton, who teed it up on the lengthier East course, finds himself in sole possession of third place after a seven-under opening round of 65, while the South African sextet of Jake Redman, Tyrone Mordt, MJ Daffue, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Tyrone Ferreira and Allan Versfeld share fourth place with American Peter Uihlein and Sweden’s Joakim Lagregren on six-under.
Sterne, who last week finished second at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, was one of the early starters on the day, and begun the event which he won in 2008 with three consecutive birdies. A chip-in at the par-five ninth hole yielded the 31-year-old an eagle, and by that stage he’d stormed to an outward nine of 30.
Further birdies at the 13th and 15th holes allowed Sterne to cruise into the clubhouse ahead of the chasing pack, and the bogey-free round left him pleased with his efforts on day one.
“It generally helps to get off to a good start. The West course you’ve got to put a good score together and I did that today. I’ve got three tough rounds on the East left, and hopefully I can play well and give myself a chance on Sunday. That’s the goal,” Sterne explained after his round.
“Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens,” he continued. “Golf is strange – you’ve got to hit the right kind of shots at the right time. There are two or three crucial shots in a round where you’ve got to hit the right shot. I’ve been minimising the mistakes, because I was getting off to a good start and then making drop shots toward the end. Now I’m making a birdie or two towards the end and that’s making a three or four shot swing to my scores.”
A 13-under final score of 271 was good enough for Sterne to clinch victory in 2008. However, with the scoring already very low on day one, it appears the man from Pretoria will need to continue to go deep if he is to taste success at the event for a second time. But Sterne believes that he can call on the memories from five years ago as he prepares to tackle the 7 000 metre East course for the remaining three rounds.
“I had three good rounds around the East Course that year. If I can do that now I’ll have a chance on Sunday,” he smiled.
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Sterne remained alone at the summit of the leaderboard for the best part of three hours, but eight birdies from Kieffer in a blemish-free round saw him join the South African at the top of proceedings. Kieffer, who came in a tie for fourth at the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship in December, amassed six birdies in the first ten holes, and attributed his fine score on the day to his flat-blade.
“My putting was the secret today. I putted really well on the front nine and only missed one putt on 18. It’s especially good because the last few weeks the putting has not been that great,” Kieffer noted.
“The West Course is a bit easier from the tee, and there are a couple more birdie chances out there. I was happy that I got off to a good start, because you know that you have to make birdies and if you make them early you can relax a little bit because you know you’re having a good day,” he added.
One of the stories of the morning came from the seven-iron of Bryce Easton, as the 25-year-old’s soaring tee shot at the 167-metre 12th hole found the cup after just one bounce. The ace was the first in Easton’s life, and he was duly rewarded with a million honours points for the Hilton Hotel – a prize put forward by Investec with an estimated value of R100 000.
“It’s one of those things – you don’t think about it when you’re playing the hole, but when it goes in it takes a couple of seconds to realise that it’s actually disappeared. It’s just such an awesome feeling to get it on the board, especially because it’s my first one,” an elated Easton said after his round.
“I was delighted with that - the points are such a nice bonus!” he added.
But the hole-in-one merely underlined what was a fantastic round on a course that sets up significantly tougher than its West counterpart, and five birdies rounded off Easton’s pristine looking scorecard. And the prospect of playing the more forgiving West course on day two will give him a great opportunity to keep himself in contention for the €1.3 million winner’s cheque.
“There were a few things. I missed a few fairways and I’ve got to figure out the driver a little bit, but I scored well,” Easton explained. “I had a chip-in on the par-five eighth, which helped me. But I wouldn’t say I flushed it today. It’s nice to have a round like that where you don’t hit it great and still manage to put a good score together.”
“Golf is a funny game. You have rounds like I did today, where you don’t strike it and you still score well. Other days you can flush it and not score. You don’t know – there’s a long way to go.
“But I know the West Course a bit better than the East, so I am looking forward to tomorrow. This was only my second round on the East Course, so I’m obviously really happy with my score,” he said.