Erik van Rooyen says his four-under-par round could have easily been six- or seven-under if a few putts had dropped. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

BELEK, Turkey – Remarkably, Erik van Rooyen played the Regnum Carya course “blind” on Thursday, but still managed an impressive bogey-free, four-under-par 67 in round one of the $7 million Turkish Airlines Open.

“Kind of blind, to be fair, because even though I didn’t have a practice round, I did get to walk the course,” explained the European Tour rookie, who woke up on Tuesday morning with a painful neck spasm.

It required two days of intensive physiotherapy to get him ready for the first round, and in that time frame, he was unable to hit balls.

The 28-year-old, a first-timer in this tournament, is enjoying a fruitful debut season in Europe.

He was second in the Joburg Open, nearly won the Irish Open, and has had five top-fives and six other finishes inside the top 25.

That all adds up to nearly €900 000, or about R14.5 million in prize-money.

This puts him 34th in the Race to Dubai, just ahead of Henrik Stenson, Branden Grace and Dylan Frittelli.

He is therefore assured of coveted spots for the first time in next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and the end-of-season DP World Tour Championship in Dubai after that.

“I played really well today and – okay, we pro golfers do get a bit greedy – but four-under could have easily been six- or seven-under if the putts had dropped.

“I had so many chances. I felt I was hitting the putts perfectly, but they’d miss by a centimetre or two, or lip out. It was that close.”

Van Rooyen, who played college golf at the University of Minnesota, is attached to Country Club Johannesburg and, at home, won the 2017 Eye of Africa PGA on the Sunshine Tour.

Here, he does trail first-round leader Paul Dunne, who had a 64, by three shots, but at least he’s very much in the hunt.

Dunne’s fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington had a 65, as did defending champion Justin Rose and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.

Van Rooyen had four birdies Thursday, and hit one awful shot.

“I skied my three-wood at 18 (his eighth hole of the day as he started his round at No 11),” he said with a chuckle, “and hit a tree not far from the tee-box.

“From in the trees, I hit a seven-iron into the left rough, then pitched up to about five feet and made the putt to save what was under the circumstances a very welcome par.”

Compatriot Darren Fichardt was one-under through 16, but then birdied No 9, his penultimate hole.

He picked up another unlikely shot at the 10th, a long, brute of a par-4 with water all the way down the left and up against the green, to sign for a three-under 68.

“I hit my drive into the trees on the right and then a poor second ended up behind some boards next to the green,” Fichardt said.

“I was looking at bogey, but somehow managed to chip it in for birdie. Nice way to finish!

“I had three silly bogeys out there, but six birdies kind of made up for them.”

Brandon Stone has had a dream season in Europe, highlighted by his Scottish Open triumph.

But one problem, he said earlier this week, has been his below average opening rounds and this was the case on Thursday, as he could only manage a 74.

Other SA scores: George Coetzee 70, Thomas Aiken 71, Trevor Immelman 72, Dean Burmester 72, Richard Sterne 74.

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