Nico van Rensburg became a father for the second time on January 2 and celebrated with a first round lead at the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA championship, the first event of the 1999 European Tour, at Johannesburg's Houghton Golf Club.
The 32-year-old, born and raised in the southern suburbs of the city, carded a superb seven under par 65, two shots better than countryman Ernie Els, with Dutchman Rolf Muntz and another South African, Richard Kaplan, tied on third at four under par.
Former world number one and six-time major winner, Nick Faldo, despite his eagerness to turn over a new leaf in 1999, had a frustrating day, shooting a five over par 77 containing seven bogeys and two birdies, and is now looking in danger of missing the cut. Another to fall out of contention was defending champion Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone, who finished with a six over par 78.
But there were no such worries for Van Rensburg. Unlike Els, who had spent most of the festive season celebrating his New Year's Eve marriage to long-time girlfriend Liezl, Van Rensburg continued practising hard albeit in social rounds with his friends and was clearly
reaping the rewards. "I've been working hard on my swing and I think it's paying off now," Van Rensburg said. "All round I was happy today. I was striking the ball well."
Starting on the tenth, Van Rensburg birdied 11 and 12 and then eagled the par-5 16th to make the turn at six under par. Two more birdies on his second nine and one disappointing drop on the par-4 fifth, completed a satisfying opening salvo for the Alberton-born professional. "So often the guy who leads the first round disappears so I'm just going to play this tournament shot by shot," Van Rensburg said.
As for Els, his new found marital status has clearly helped him put the memories of a lean, by his standards, 1998 behind him and it was a relaxed and confident two-time US Open winner that lined up on Thursday. Like Van Rensburg, Els started at the tenth carding four blemish-free birdies over the first nine. A wayward drive on the par-4 second earned him a double bogey and almost ruined his round, but he regained his composure and stormed home with three birdies over the final three holes.
"The double bogey really took the wind out of my sails and I lost concentration," Els said. "I had it really going over the first nine and I felt that a 64 was on the cards." Els' trouble on the second started with a wayward tee shot that buried itself in the merciless rough and ended when a photographer disturbed his concentration as he attempted to putt home a bogey. Typically Els took it in his stride just as he had done with the early tee-off time at 7.10am.
"I was out practising on the practice tee at ten past six this morning. Sometimes during the holiday that was the time I was getting home after a party," Els joked.