Wilco Nienaber played his first competitive round after a long break and the 64 he posted was good enough to share the lead with Alexander Levy in Thursday’s first round of the SDC Open at the Zebula Country Club.
Nienaber and Levy lead by one over England’s Chris Paisley and Tom Shadbolt, Spain’s Angel Ayora, South Africa’s Malcolm Mitchell and Dutchman Lars van Meijel. Defending champion JJ Senekal opened with a round of level par 72.
Nienaber made his seven birdies, eagle and one bogey look fairly routine as he showed no signs of any competitive rust in setting the pace as the co-leader in this Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour co-sanctioned tournament. Frenchman Levy joined him later in the day with a round that included six consecutive birdies.
“I took a long break which was really good. I really tried to put the clubs away and rest. I struggled to do so for longer than two weeks though. I played a few rounds but didn’t really focus on a score, so I’m pleased with this round. It felt pretty easy,” said Nienaber.
Levy was equally delighted with what was also his first competitive round of the year. “I practiced very hard the last few weeks in Dubai and I’m happy with my game today. I missed a few putts on my front nine but I remained patient and that was the key today,” said the five-time DP World Tour winner.
Nienaber certainly looked at ease on Thursday and hinted at a few elements to his game that he focused on in preparing for this week. “My distance off the tee certainly helps on this course. You can get lucky when you hit it offline here. But saying that, I’ve learned to manage that part of my game better. I’m not hitting it full blast the whole time.”
The key to his 64 came on the back nine – his first nine. Amidst his birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th was a very good par save on the par-four 12th hole. “I hit my tee shot left and was in a thorn bush. I got it out into the bunker and then managed an up-and-down for par, so that kept the momentum going.”
He then took advantage with an eagle on the par-five 15th. “I hit a really good drive and then a wedge to five feet and holed the putt. The par fives here are reachable and scoring on them is key here. Having said that I parred two of them today, but that’s good because it means there’s room for improvement.”