Big-hitter Wilco Nienaber shares lead at Joburg Open
By: Michael Oakley
JOHANNESBURG - Wilco Nienaber's power was on full display on Thursday in the opening round of the Joburg Open on the Firethorn course at Randpark.
Never more so than on the par-5 fourth hole when he smashed his drive over 400m, leaving just a gap wedge into the green. He missed the eagle putt because "I didn't trust my first instinct on my line and missed it on the right".
That would have been his second eagle of the round after he had recorded a three on the par-5 12th, his third hole of the day, after starting on No 10.
The 20-year-old shot an eight-under 63 to share the lead with Shaun Norris, who also went off in the morning field, but it wasn't all plain sailing for the young South African star.
Nienaber finished with five pars, three bogeys, nine birdies and that early eagle.
He dropped a shot on No 8, his second last hole of the day, and that would have annoyed him as he flew his tee shot over the green on the tough par-3 and couldn't get up-and-down for par.
He made up for it on the par-4 ninth as he hit his driver over the green (after taking a little bit off it) to set up a final birdie.
"Eight-under is nice around any course, and to do it here, the first round of the Joburg Open while back home again is great," he said.
Norris (38) also eagled the 12th while adding six birdies with no dropped shots as he showed his prowess on the greens.
"I've been hitting it well and came in with some confidence and I had a sound game plan of when to attack and when to back off," he said after his round.
"Staying out of trouble was key today, I was hitting my driver well so that, together with my putting, helped to keep the bogies off the card," Norris added.
Johannes Veerman from the US (one bogey and eight birdies) was the best of the late starters when conditions were much tougher with the greens getting harder and the wind picking up, and is one stroke back after a 64.
England's Richard McEvoy, Rhys Enoch of Wales, Zimbabwe's Benjamin Follett-Smith, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano from Spain and Brazilian Adilson de Silva are the next best after finishing their rounds on six-under.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout only arrived in the country yesterday morning after finishing 38th at The Masters, and after being tested for Covid-19 came out firing in the afternoon.
The 26-year-old birdied the first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth as he made the turn in 30. His back nine didn't go according to plan as the jet lag appeared to hit him and the World No 60 came home with seven pars and bogies at the tough 17th and 18th holes to finish with a 68.
Exceptional day of golf at @RandparkGolf. 😎![CDATA]>👍— Sunshine Tour (@Sunshine_Tour) November 19, 2020
Wilco Nienaber made a lightning quick start whilst @shaun_pj played a near perfect round. 🏆@A_Cockerill made a late push for the lead & is tied for 3rd with @jkrunk92. ⛳️#GreatnessBeginsHere | #JoburgOpen | #SunshineTour pic.twitter.com/yGInxXoC9T
It wasn't such a great day for the defending champion Shubhankar Sharma who finished five-over par after a front nine (the back nine on the course) of 41. He came home in even par 35 after bogeying the second and birdying the fifth, but it certainly wasn't the way he wanted to start his title defence and he will have to work hard to make the cut and play on the weekend.
One of the tournament favourites Brandon Stone had an up-and-down day to finish at one-under after four birdies, a bogey and a double.