Sweden’s Mattias Nielson fired a six under par 67 in the opening round of the Stanbic Zambian Open at Lusaka GC thanks to just 25 putts to share the first round with South African Ulrich van den Berg.
Indeed the 25-year-old from Skurup squandered the outright lead with three putts on the final green to complete a round which included no fewer than eight birdies and just the two bogeys.
“I played well except for the three putt on the last,” said Nilsson. “I played strong, straight golf but I read the green well and that was the difference today.”
Starting at the tenth, Nilsson birdied the opening par five to get his round of to an ideal start. With four par fives on the back nine there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a few shots and Nilsson took full advantage by adding further birdies on the 525 yard 14th and 564 yard 18th, in addition to a birdie two on the par three 16th.
Another birdie four followed on the second hole followed by his sixth of the round on the third. Nilsson's first dropped shot came at the par three sixth but he bounced straight back with a brace of birdies before dropping a shot on the last.
Nilsson shares the lead in the event co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and the Southern Africa Sunshine Tour with van den Burg ahead of four players on five under par - South Africa's Graeme van der Nest and the Zimbabwean trio of Nasho Kamungeremu, Sean Farrell and Mike Lamb opened with rounds of 68.
The par-73 Lusaka Golf Course was playing incredibly long on the first day following some heavy rain in the area but a relaxed Van den Berg played patient golf that yielded six birdies and no bogeys.
"The course is still quite wet and the greens are bumpy, so you have to be patient," he said. After the stress of the recent summer section of the tour, Van den Berg decided not to play in last week's Kenya Open and instead took a week off.
"I really needed a break and never touched a club the whole week. The summer tour was very stressful for me because I didn't play as well as I wanted to. I had a few good finishes, but it felt like I was continually fighting against the odds. I felt like my game was there, but it just wasn't clicking."
Van den Berg is hunting his second victory on the Sunshine Tour after he broke through with a win in last year's Riviera Classic.
The young Johannesburg professional was also fortunate enough to see his playing partner Andre Cruse score a hole-in-one at the par three 11th that wins Cruse a Nissan Terrano 4x4. It was the first hole-in-one in Zambia since Ian Woosnam achieved the feat on the 16th hole in the 1985 Zambian Open when the event formed part of the Safari Tour.
Alongside Cruse are England’s Stuart Little and James Hepworth who fired opening 69s to lie in the group two shots off the pace with Scotland’s Euan Little and Denmark’s Jesper Kjaerbye.
The English Little picked up five birdies in his outward half, the back nine on the course, but could not make any further in roads on the closing stretch. Nevertheless it was a move in the right direction after the left hander missed the cut in Kenya last week.
“I played very well,” he said. “It is an improvement on last week and I’m happy to see my game is going well.”