Despite the capricious wind, Spain’s Sergio Garcia blazed a trail around the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.
He holds a four-shot, first-round lead at the Nedbank Golf Challenge after a blemish-free round of 64. His four-shot cushion is the biggest after the opening round on the European Tour in 2018, but he insisted he had to keep his wits about him.
“It was a great day‚” Garcia acknowledged. “It wasn’t that easy. The course was tricky. The wind was up at times. We know how much it swirls here.
“You can play a hole in four different types of wind. It doesn’t make any sense but you have to trust it. Sometimes you are going to get it right‚ sometimes you are going to get it wrong.
“I was fortunate to get it right a lot of the time. Not all the time. But to go bogey-free is always great.”
Though the conditions were tricky, Garcia got most of his game right.
“Everything worked well. I drove the ball nicely. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. I was able to make a couple of really nice putts‚” he said.
“On a course like this you are not going to hit it to [within] two feet every time. It just does not happen.”
Having earned a confidence-building win at his home event at Valderrama earlier in 2018, Garcia is acutely aware everything fell into place for him on the opening day. He stressed that there is still a long way to go in the event.
“It ’s early days. Anyone could go out there and shoot 64. You got to keep going.” SA’s Charl Schwartzel shared second place with Finland’s Mikko Korhonen and France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
Schwartzel and countryman Louis Oosthuizen‚ who is on three-under‚ lamented the swirling winds in the Pilanesberg crater.
“The wind blew a lot in the beginning. It was straight into the wind. On this course your start is key. I only made one bogey‚ [which was] on eight. The wind turned on us and I came up way short‚” said Schwartzel.
The former Masters champion was satisfied with his round and he believes a 16-under total after four rounds will be hard to beat.
Defending champion Branden Grace finished two-under‚ while fellow South Africans Dean Burmester (level)‚ Darren Fichardt and Brandon Stone (both two-over) had underwhelming opening rounds.
Tournament favourite Rory McIlroy‚ who finished level par‚ rued a poor back nine.
“I actually played pretty nicely on the front nine but it was a bad‚ bad finish‚” he lamented, adding that “the driver let me down a couple of times”.