SUN CITY – Bernd Wiesberger made six birdies in a blistering 31 on the back nine at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday to emerge as the leader by one shot of the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The 32-year-old recorded a 67, one stroke better than four other players, after also registering birdies at the sixth and seventh holes.
Three bogeys, at the fifth, ninth and 13th, spoilt a stunning round in difficult conditions.
“It wasn’t easy, to be honest. It was breezy out there and the course is tricky off the tee,” said Wiesberger.
“But I played alright, better than the last couple of weeks. It was nice; I was quite relaxed and took my chances. It’s a challenging course, from the first to the last hole... I’m glad we managed to get things together.”
Sitting in a tie for second going into the second round are South Africa’s Branden Grace, France’s Victor Dubuisson, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and the USA’s Julian Suri.
Grace, who is looking to bag his first title at Sun City, was two-over par after four holes and even after 12 after picking up birdies at the par-three seventh and par-five 10th, but his round came alive at the 13th, 14th and 15th when he went birdie, eagle, birdie.
“Going four-under in three holes on the back there was crucial. I didn’t do anything wrong early on; the putter was just cold. Those putts there were big for me and the round. I feel I hit the ball great, had some chances,” said Grace.
He added he liked the toughness of the challenge on a windy day where scoring was never easy.
“It’s a brutal golf course and I don’t think anyone’s going to run away with it. You’ve got to grind out there, just keep the ball in play and give yourself some chances, similar to a US Open... it’s not much different.”
Two shots off the pace are a further four players, including current SA Open champion Graeme Storm, defending champion Alex Noren and local favourite Charl Schwartzel, who bogey the 18th to post a 69.
While satisfied with his four-birdie round, the former Masters champion felt he could have shot a score similar to Noren’s 63 in the final round a year ago.
“That was as solid as I’ve played on this golf course,” said the 33-year-old, who is also looking for his first win here and missed Wednesday’s pro-am because of illness.
“After being so weak yesterday (Wednesday), I hit the ball beautifully... I could have shot 63, 64. But it’s tough out there, windy and firm, and if you’re slightly offline, you’re going to be punished.”
Schwartzel said he expected someone to go low at some stage this week.
“It’s only congested at the top because it’s the first day and everyone’s trying to get something going. Someone’s going to go low here. I didn’t make a putt today, but someone will, and that’ll separate them from the rest.”
Good friend Louis Oosthuizen looked to be on course for a spot among the leaders after being four-under-par after 10 holes following an eagle at the par-five second and birdies at the par-four sixth and par-five 10th.
But he then mixed four bogeys with a sole birdie in his final eight holes to be at one-under, four shots back.