Jake Roos (Getty Images)
A closing birdie and one of the best bunker shots of his career helped Challenge Tour debutant Jake Roos snatch the lead on day one of the Kenya Open.
An eight foot birdie putt on the ninth hole at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi, Kenya, sealed a six under par round of 65, the highlight of which was a holed bunker shot at the 14th.
Roos, twice a winner on the Sunshine Tour in his native South Africa, leads by one stroke from Sweden’s Andreas Högberg, with Scotland’s Callum Macaulay a further shot back in third place on four under par.
Despite damp underfoot conditions – caused by torrential rain overnight – which made the 7,213-yard, par 71 course play even longer, the Cape Town resident reeled off five birdies on his front nine, with a three-putt for bogey at the 13th hole the only blip.
Roos, who completed a BA Accountancy degree and worked briefly for an investment company before turning professional in 2005, picked up a further two shots after the turn to complete a dream debut.
The 29 year old, whose highest European Tour finish was tied 18th behind compatriot Charl Schwartzel in the Africa Open at the start of the season, said: “It was a good ball-striking day, and I sunk some nice putts. I also missed some fairly short putts so I could’ve gone even lower, but you’ve got to be happy any time you shoot a 65. The highlight of the round was my bunker shot at the 14th, which I played perfectly. I’d short-sided myself and hardly had any green to work with, so to get it close would’ve been an achievement in itself – but to hole it was pretty special.
“I only recently decided to play here this week, because we haven’t got a tournament on the Sunshine Tour for a few weeks. So instead of sitting around doing nothing at home, I thought I’d come over to Kenya – and it’s looking like a good decision at the moment. Despite the rain the course has held up pretty well, and I’ve enjoyed playing it. I’d like to play more events on the Challenge Tour, but that depends mainly on what happens here this week.”
Högberg is playing his third full season on the Challenge Tour, and is hoping to have learnt some lessons from his previous campaigns.
Having missed the cut in the first four events of his maiden season, and missed three cuts out of four at the start of last year, the softly-spoken Swede vowed to hit the ground running this term.
He must have felt a sense of déjà-vu after bogeying the first hole, but soon made amends with seven birdies in a round of 66.
Högberg said: “My driving today wasn’t the best, but I got away with a few bad ones and my short game made up for it. Whenever I had my wedge in my hand I felt confident of getting down in two, and more often than not I did. So it’s a good start to the season for me, which is what I really needed.
“In the past two years I’ve given myself too much to do to catch up with the guys in front of me, but hopefully this year I can get some good results early in the season to take a little bit of the pressure off. I’d maybe worked a bit too hard on my technique in previous years, whereas this year I actually got out onto the golf course and played some minor tournaments in Turkey and Spain. So I got the feeling of being back competing earlier than I usually would, and in a way this feels like my fourth or fifth Challenge Tour event of the season, not the first. So I think that’s definitely helped me this year. I feel I’m getting closer to The European Tour every season, but I’m 28 this year so I need to get a move on!”
Macaulay is two years younger but has already sampled life on the European Tour, having enjoyed an outstanding amateur career which culminated in him earning a place in The 2009 Race to Dubai through the 2008 Qualifying School – Final Stage.
Like England’s Robert Dinwiddie and Sweden’s Klas Eriksson, who sit in a share of fourth place alongside seven other players on three under par, the Scot is striving to bounce back to The European Tour at the first time of asking after surrendering his playing privileges last year.
Starting at the tenth hole, Macaulay got off to the perfect start with an eagle three before notching birdies at the three remaining par fives, with the only blip coming at the second hole, where he missed the green with his tee shot.
He said: “I was hoping to get off to a good start, so an eagle on my first hole wasn’t a bad way to do it. I had a three wood to the green for my second shot and the fairway was still quite wet after all the rain we’ve had, so I was unsure whether to go for it or not. But I caught it flush and ended up about three feet from the flag, so I’m glad I did. I also birdied the three other par fives, so I played them pretty well. The only bogey was at the par three second, where I left my chip short and missed the putt. But other than that, I played very well.
“It’s a good start to my Challenge Tour career – I played the Scottish Challenge as an amateur, but this is my first event as a pro. It’s also my first visit to Kenya, and so far I’ve been impressed. I was in India last month for the Avantha Masters, and that was a real eye-opener. But the hotel here’s very nice and I was also impressed with the course – they did a great job in getting it ready, considering all the rain we’ve had. It’s pretty hot now, but I’ve coped ok – I went to the University of Mississippi for five years, so I got used to the heat over there.”
Macaulay is also still getting used to life in the professional ranks, having only relinquished his amateur status at the end of 2008.
Despite some eye-catching performances on The European Tour last year, most notably a back nine of 28 which saw him finish runner-up in Madeira, Macaulay struggled for consistency at times, eventually finishing 134th in The Race to Dubai.
But the 26 year old is confident of restoring his confidence on the Challenge Tour this term.
He said: “I played a few events on the main Tour at the start of the season, but I’ll be concentrating mainly on the Challenge Tour for the rest of the season. As great as the experience of playing on The European Tour was last year, I still feel I’m learning my trade – and the Challenge Tour is a great place to do that. I learnt a lot last year, but I’ve still got a lot to learn.
“Towards the end of the season, when I was trying desperately to keep my card, I changed my mindset. Instead of trying to win the tournament I was concentrating mainly on just making the cut, and that probably cost me. I’m now thinking about winning tournaments again, and hopefully I can carry that through the rest of the season. If and when I get back onto the main Tour, I should be a better player – and a wiser one.”
After two seasons on The European Tour Dinwiddie is also hoping to rebuild his career on the Challenge Tour, and so far his quest is going well, having finished fifth in Colombia at the start of the season.
The 27 year old, who was born in Scotland but raised in England, travelled to Nairobi a day early in order to acclimatise and play a practice round at the newly-renovated course at Muthaiga Golf Club, which he last visited in 2007 – the year he won back-to-back Challenge Tour titles en route to finishing eighth in the Rankings.
The decision appears to have paid off handsomely, as Dinwiddie notched four birdies and a solitary bogey at the long sixth hole to sign for a round of 68.
That was the same score as Dinwiddie’s compatriot Gary Clark, whose 2009 season was interrupted by a persistent hip injury, but the 38 year old now appears to have put his frustrations behind him.