Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee surprise leader after the first round of the Volvo Golf Champions

2013-01-11 00:00

THAILAND’S Thongchai Jaidee rested best after the first round of the Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club yesterday, carding a seven under par 65 on a day which saw the weather close in, bringing rain.

The day dawned dull and overcast with a strong southwesterly wind and, while the wind could be combatted, it was a matter of when the rain would arrive.

Nonetheless, everything ran to plan as the field of 33 teed-off on schedule.

With spectators and golf enthusiasts welcoming a European Tour event to Durban, there was a healthy train of followers littered around the course; South Africans Branden Grace (the defending Volvo champion), Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen drawing the most interest.

Teeing-off last with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, Els was the man to watch, as he started with birdies on the opening three holes, including a “hallelujah” putt on the second which set the crowd alight. However, a shanked tee-shot at the par three fourth saw him with much to do as he double-bogeyed to cancel out his earlier exploits.

It was the only blip on a solid front nine which saw him bag a further two birdies (7 and 9) to make the turn in 33. A steady back nine with birdies at 10 and 18 saw him home in 68, sharing second spot on four-under with Oosthuizen.

Said Els: “It was difficult out there and was hard work. My play was tested and I had to do plenty of saving. My driving was great and most times I found the fairway, which is vital on this course.”

As for the wind, Els had no problem, as it was the rain he wanted to clear. “The wind makes this course what it is and hopefully the weather will turn,” he said.

Els also commented on the third hole, a par five which saw the big hitting Colsaerts smash over 400 yards off the tee. “I have never seen that done before. He was only 84 metres from the front and I was in another area, way back behind him. They should put a plaq-ue where the ball landed as no-one will get there again off the tee.”

All the while, Jaidee quietly went about his business rather un-noticed as five birdies (2, 3, 5, 6, 7) saw him set the standard with 31 at the halfway stage. Another three birdies (10, 15, 18) on the home stretch cemented his spot at the top of the leaderboard.

Said Jaidee: “I am absolutely delighted with my opening round and will take a 65 on this course and in these conditions on any day. It was tricky out there and I couldn’t ask for a better start to the tournament and the year. I used a lot of irons off the tee and only used the driver twice. My putting was great and it was just the perfect start.”

Grace had an up and down start to his title defence, the highlight being his eagle on the par-five third. Eagles were also knocked in by Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie at three and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn at eight. Dropped shots at 5, 6, 12, 16 and 17, however, saw Grace finish on the wrong side of the board at three-over and all to play for in the next three days.

Oosthuizen was steady, producing some superb approach shots while recording three bogeys in his round of 68. He finished in style, slotting a birdie on the 18th to move to four-under and share second with Els.

With Goosen on level par, today should draw a huge crowd as the South Africans lie in wait to attack the leader.

After the opening day, South Africans could not have asked for better with these “big three” ready to make their move.

Credit must be given to the pairings who teed-off toward the end of the draw as at about 2.30 pm the anticipated rain arrived, sweeping across the course and having players and spectators reaching for umbrellas. It turned miserable as the rain intensified and driven by the wind, conditions were anything but satisfying for play. But, play went on and organisers breathed a sigh of relief when the last putt of the day went in, everything still according to plan and the only hope being a prayer for better weather today.

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