St Andrews – On a day in which an upbeat Ernie Els stated that he was"born in a bunker", South Africa's Justin Walters blitzed the famous Old Course here Thursday with a spectacular nine-birdie, no-bogey 63 to take the first round lead in the $5-million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The 38-year-old, who plays out of Country Club Johannesburg, started his round at the 10th hole where he made his first birdie. He also picked up shots at the 11th, 12th and 16th to move to four under. But he now faced what many regard as the toughest par-4 in golf, the infamous Road Hole. But he birdied that too to be out in 31. On his inward half there were birdies at the third, fifth, sixth and ninth for a loop of 32 strokes so he was home in 63.
Walters isn't having the best of seasons and is a lowly 143rd in the Race to Dubai and he'll probably need to be in the top 120 come November to retain his card for next year. But all that could change if he can keep the form going at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and back at St Andrews over the next three rounds.
Other South Africans to prosper at St Andrews were Jaco Ahlers on 65, George Coetzee on 66 (Coetzee the man who once shot a record-equalling
62 on the Old Course), and in-form Christiaan Bezuidenhout on 67. At Kingsbarns, Zander Lombard signed for that same number.
Meanwhile, an hour's drive away from St Andrews at Carnoustie, Els, 21 days away from his 50th birthday, carded a solid two-under-par 70 on one of Britain's toughest links. Known for his fine sand play throughout his storied career, he played a magnificent bunker shot at the par-3 seventh, his 16th hole of the day, to save par. He was steep up against the face of a pot bunker and needed to go over another trap to find the putting surface. But, with a touch of magic, he blasted to two-and-half-feet to get his three. "Yeah," he said, "that felt good.