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Darren Fichardt © Gallo Images

Fichardt leads by one in Tshwane

A scintillating seven-under round of 65 from Africa Open champion Darren Fichardt was enough to seize a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson after day one of the inaugural Tshwane Open at the Els Club Copperleaf on Thursday.

The round from Fichardt, which included eight birdies, was the standout performance of the day, although Akesson’s six birdies and an eagle in the afternoon helped him to an impressive 66 and instilled him as Fichardt’s closest challenger.

The English trifecta of Gary Lockerbie, David Howell and David Horsey each posted scores of 67 to share third place on five under with Chile’s Mark Tullo, Indian Jeev Milkha Singh, and the South African pair of Jean Hugo and Charl Coetzee.

A crowded leaderboard sees 16 players sharing eighth place on four-under, with a further 12 on three under.

Fichardt, who followed up victory in East London with a finish in a tie for seventh place at last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am, hit the ground running with a birdie at the tenth – his opening hole. Another red number at the 13th hole was followed by three successive birdies from the 15th, and the 37-year old reached the turn in 31.

It got even better for the Pretoria professional as he reached eight under after birdies at the first, fourth and sixth holes. A bogey at the short seventh proved to be an unexpected blemish, but Fichardt was nonetheless pleased with his efforts on the day.

“The golf course is a lot softer than what I’m used to,” Fichardt said after his round. “The greens are very soft, so you’re able to attack the flags. I’m happy with seven-under to start off with.

“It’s funny, because I birdied all of the tough holes and then the easiest hole on the golf course I bogey – that’s how this game is. I got a bad bounce off the tee shot and it went into a bunker. I had a horrendous lie and only had 90 metres to the hole. I managed to get it to the front edge of the green and then chipped it close and missed a short putt. It was a very weak hole, but the other 17 were good,” he smiled.

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The win at the Africa Open didn’t include a blistering first round, and it was on days two and three where he stormed to the top of the leaderboard. The challenge of holding an early lead often proves to be a bridge too far for most, but Fichardt remains unperturbed by his fast start, and sees it as another route to victory.

“At Africa Open I felt like I started a little late. I didn’t jump out the blocks like I have this week. I had a new driver, a new swing thought and I started the week very ‘iffy’ and then I progressed into a bit of form.

“I take it as one round out of the way. There are four rounds and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve been in the lead many times before and I know how to deal with it. I’m grateful to have started seven-under, but you take it one day at a time,” he explained.

A busy schedule has seen Fichardt play tournament golf on the Sunshine and European Tours for eight successive weeks, and the gruelling itinerary has understandably left him a bit jaded. However, with confidence continuing to build, Fichardt simply believes it is a case of riding the wave.

“I started playing two practice rounds before each event, but by now I’m down to just nine holes! I played Volvo, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Dubai, Joburg, Africa and DiData. Now I’m here,” he concluded jokingly.

Fichardt added: “It’s nice. I’m not complaining, and it’s what I love to do, so we go and play.”

Akesson had looked on course to match or even better Fichardt’s score of 65 after making an eagle on the par-five 15th hole to reach seven under. A bogey at the short 17th saw him slip back into sole possession of second, but the Swede remained content with his position on the leaderboard.

“I’m really happy with how I played. The swing wasn’t 100 per cent, but I made some long putts today which helped me to a really good round I think.

“You can run into trouble on this course, but also shoot low if you hit fairways. I gave myself a lot of birdie chances so that was very pleasing. The bunkers are quite punishing though, so I just tried to avoid them as much as possible. The course also suits the long hitters, and luckily today I was carrying it over most of the bunkers,” the 24-year-old said.


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