Oosthuizen in the chase

2014-01-10 00:00

THE first day of the Volvo Golf Champions took place under blue skies and in an irksome wind at Durban Country Club yesterday.

On a day where players battled to read the pace of the greens early on, possibly due to an element of rustiness following the Christmas break, it was Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin who dealt with the elements best and who goes in to today’s second round as tournament leader after carding a bogey-free round of 67 (-5).

Just one back from Jacquelin and South Africa’s best performer on the day, is defending champion Louis Oosthuizen.

Oosthuizen was forced to recover from a bogey on the first, but he never wavered and the 17 holes that followed saw him card five birdies.

Even when in trouble, Oosthuizen relied on his short game to save par, and he was delighted with his round in what he described as difficult conditions.

“It was a rough start and the first five holes were not the easiest in that wind,” said 2010’s British Open champion. “After that, I got into a rhythm quickly and felt comfortable.”

Oosthuizen added he would have been happy with a round of “even or -1” on his first trip around a course since a relaxing Christmas break.

With the wind expected to stick around over the next few days, he was reluctant to suggest there would be many scores lower than what the leaders shot yesterday.

“I think that -4, -5 is a really good score on the opening day,” Oosthuizen said. “If there is a day where there is no wind, then the course is good and I am sure we will see at least one low round coming out.”

The fortunes of South Africa’s other favourite, Charl Schwartzel, could not have been more different.

Schwartzel missed fairways and putts and was simply nowhere near his best. This was highlighted on the 18th when he became the only player in the 36-man field to record a bogey on what is a 250-metre par four, to finish on a disappointing +2, seven shots off the pace.

Jacquelin, the 120th ranked player in the world and winner of the 2013 Open de Espana, started quietly but solidly, with pars on the first five holes before birdies on the par four sixth and the par five eighth saw him make the turn at -2.

Further birdies on 17 and 18 would ensure that he finished strong, and his lead was only ever under threat from Oosthuizen, who played in the final pairing of the day with Thomas Bjorn (+7).

“It was tough, the crosswinds are very strong,” said the Frenchman. “But I managed to get everything right; a bogey-free round. It’s a good way to start the new year for me so that’s pretty great.”

Jacquelin also commented on the technical nature of the course.

“It is a thinking man’s course. It’s tricky but if you stay focused, it’s wide off the tee, which is good for us,” he said. “The greens were faster and firmer. If you manage to keep the ball in play, you’ll have a chance at birdie.”

There were moments of magic for a slimmed down 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, who chipped in from off the green on the par-three second to set the tone for what would be an impressive 69, and 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jiminez [76], who chipped in on the first for birdie.

Today’s play will start an hour earlier than yesterday, at 9.10 am.

DAY 1 LEADERBOARD

67 Raphael Jacquelin (France) 67

68 Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 68

69 Victor Dubuisson (France) 69

Darren Clarke (Britain) 69

70 Colin Montgomerie (Britain) 70

Marcel Siem (Germany) 70

Simon Thornton (Ireland) 70

Tommy Fleetwood (Britain) 70

Chris Wood (Britain) 70

Joost Luiten (Netherlands) 70

Peter Uihlein (U.S.) 70

71 David Lynn (Britain) 71

Padraig Harrington (Ireland) 71

Jamie Donaldson (Britain) 71

Morten Madsen (Denmark) 71

Dawie van der Walt (South Africa) 71

72 Thomas Aiken (South Africa) 72

Michael Hoey (Britain) 72

Paul Casey (Britain) 72

Richard Sterne (South Africa) 72

Matteo Manassero (Italy) 72

73 Stephen Gallacher (Britain) 73

Brett Rumford (Australia) 73

Mikko Ilonen (Finland) 73

Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain) 73

Jeong Jin (South Korea) 73

Darren Fichardt (South Africa) 73

74 Branden Grace (South Africa) 74

Julien Quesne (France) 74

Robert Karlsson (Sweden) 74

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spain) 74

Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) 74

75 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) 75

76 David Howell (Britain) 76

Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) 76

79 Thomas Bjorn (Denmark) 79

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