Red-hot Lawrence grabs Joburg Open lead
Nikhil Rama in second place on five under with 10 players on four under par
Thriston Lawrence attacked with precision to produce a flawless round for a three-stroke lead of the R20.5m Joburg Open on Thursday.
Lawrence nailed five birdies in his opening six holes on his way to carding a first-round eight-under-par 62 at the Houghton Golf Club, a course record on the tournament layout which has been altered to par 70 for this edition.
He drove with pinpoint accuracy, but it was his putting that set him apart from the rest of the field, especially his effort from off the green on the 12th to save par.
“The putter was hot, it felt like I was reading them really nicely,” said the 2021 champion when this co-sanctioned DP World Tour event was played at Randpark. “Compared to last year the greens are quite firm so you could actually play some nice shots. Coming in with an eight iron you can plan a shot with all the undulations on these greens.
“I got the wind right today, I was pin-high quite a few times and proximity to the hole was good as well,” said 26-year-old Lawrence, who last season won the SA Open and the BMW International Open to top up his career earnings to more than €3m, or more than R63m.
Lying alone in second on five under was 22-year-old Nikhil Rama, who is less than R5,000 away from earning his first million on the Sunshine Tour.
Like Lawrence, Rama got off to a fast start with three straight birdies and then banked two more on his eighth and ninth holes to turn in 30. He briefly moved to six under with a birdie three on the first hole, his 10th, but bogeys five on two and four, dimmed his charge, though a birdie four on the fifth steered him to 65.
“I've been really grinding it out the last few weeks,” said Rama, who qualified for this tournament by finishing in the top five at the Vodacom Origins of Golf final at Pezula. “Been playing really well and good to see pay-off again today.
“I was just keeping it in the fairways and then obviously I hit some great approach shots and a couple of putts fell for me today. Just all round solid.”
But he was adamant he wasn’t going to fall to the size of the occasion. “I’m here to enjoy it.”
A further 10 players, including defending champion Dan Bradbury of England and his compatriot, 2015 champion Andy Sullivan, were bunched on four under par, and only two of them avoided dropped shots, Zander Lombard and Darren Fichardt, the 2017 champion.
“I hit a lot of very good shots,” said Bradbury. “Kind of had a few putts I don’t know how they missed. One of those days but still pretty hope with the day’s work.”
Among that group was Jacques Kruyswijk, who secured his card at the DP World Tour Q School in Spain recently.
“My mindset has been really good the past few months,” said the 31-year-old, who shot 64 on the final day of the second phase qualifying tournament to advance to the final.
The pressure there was immense, he said. “You always have this inkling thing in your head, which says ‘ja, you’re not going to do it, you’re going to fold again this week’.
“It feels like a pressure cooker, like the biggest pressure cooker you’ll have in your career because essentially, if you miss it by a shot, you don’t have work for the following season.”
Now he’s in contention.
Jaco van Zyl, on three under with five others, recorded the first eagle two of the tournament on the opening hole, draining an 85m lob wedge from the fairway. The veteran said he was finding a groove after playing pain-free for four months.
“It’s really nice, it’s been a struggle for the past 10 years,” said Van Zyl, who in that time has fractured both wrists, undergone one spinal fusion and three knee surgeries.
“Then I was battling with the lower back and then I started working with a biokineticist and realised it’s not really the lower back. I started working in the gym and diet so I don’t battle with fatigue any more.”
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