An eagle-three on his 17th hole on Thursday vaulted veteran Ulrich van den Berg to a share of the top of the leaderboard as he signed for a blemish-free eight-under-par 64 in the opening round of the Sunshine Tour’s Players Championship hosted by Dainfern Golf Estate.
With that eagle, he got his nose ahead in the second tournament of the Sunshine Tour’s 2021 restart, with Jared Harvey going birdie-birdie on eight and nine to join him in the lead. Behind them was a veritable logjam of players on seven-under-par: Jacques Blaauw, Ruan Conradie, Jaco Prinsloo, England’s Steve Surry, Oliver Bekker, Jake Roos and James Kingston were all just one shot off the pace.
“It was a bit unexpected because I haven’t been playing much golf,” said Van den Berg. “I’m thrilled with the score, especially after three months off. It was a steady round, and I love the comfort levels I have at Dainfern where I have had successes in the past.”
The seven-time winner on the Sunshine Tour started his round on the 10th tee, and he immediately started to pick up strokes as he birdied that par-four. He birdied both par-fives – the 12th and the 18th – and picked up another on the par-four 15th. He picked up another after the turn on the next par-five, the second, and he moved to six-under on the third with a birdie there.
Then came the eighth: “I stood up there on the tee, and the wind was swirling,” he said. “I thought I’d have a downwind shot, but it turned out to be into the wind. I had a five-iron in, and I hit to about 25 feet past the hole. I had a slippery downhill putt, and it just wobbled its way in.”
Harvey felt that his round came from starting to get his iron-play back, which was something he was able to rely on when he was playing at his best. “I also put a new driver in play this week, and I got lucky with it on the first,” he said. “I could have got double-bogey there, but I got a birdie on my first hole, so that settled me down nicely.
“I also putted nicely – nothing outrageous like 40- or 50-footers, but they were going in, and that helped. I won on the Bushveld Tour a little while back, and we all know what a win can do for confidence,” added Harvey.
Behind them and the seven players on seven-under, there are eight on six-under, so it’s a congested leaderboard at the top, and it will take three more good rounds in the conditions to get the win.
With Van den Berg’s last win on the Sunshine Tour coming back in October 2013, he’s too smart a campaigner to think he’s on his way to an eighth title. “I’m not playing the best of my life,” he said. “I’m just steady. So we’ll go out there tomorrow and try to get it right again.”