Wallie Coetsee set a course record for the re-designed Randpark lay-out with a seven under par 65 which helped him establish a one stroke lead over the field in the first round of the Mercedes-Benz South African Open Championship.
The 27 year old from Tzaneen in the Northern Province birdied six out of seven holes from the eighth to move ahead of three players, Greg Owen and Paul Eales of England and South African Des Terblanche.
Coetsee, who proposed to his fiancee, Ashley, on the stroke of midnight in the new millennium, admitted: “It’s a good start to the new year all round. I hit the ball last week at Houghton as well as I did today, but the difference is that a few putts dropped.”
Owen, also 27, from Coxmoor in England, charged home in 32 assisted by an eagle at the 12th to return a solid 66. At 6ft 4in, he has experienced back trouble in the past but spent the winter working on stretching and strengthening of muscles with martial arts expert Ron Cuthbert.
He commented: “That’s the best round of golf I’ve played since the Lancome Trophy. Everything was at the flag. I had so many changes. The last two years I’ve left it very late to keep my card and I don’t know why. My intention is to get off to a better start this time.”
Owen, one of the new signings to the Matchroom team run by snooker impresario, Barry Hearn, was joined on 66 by Terblanche and later in the day by Eales, who starts the new century chasing his first victory in six years.
The full-time golfer and part-time radio commentator from Preston had seven birdies in a superb spell from the eighth to become the third player on 66. Third in last season’s Volvo PGA Championship behind Colin Montgomerie and Mark James, Eales believes he is still improving at 36.
"I am playing better and better – sort of maturing as we go along, although sometimes the results don’t show that” he said. “I feel more comfortable in myself and my main this season is to win again.”
Lee Westwood make a solid start to his new campaign, despite dropping two shots on the first four holes. A first birdie of the new millennium at the eighth and four more coming home enabled Westwood to compile a three under par 69.
“I would have settled for level par after four holes. In fact I would have settled for level par at the start of the day, being my first competitive round of the year” he said.
“There was a bit of rust to start with but I got my caddie, Mick, on the job on the back nine and managed to roll a few in. It’s a sound start. I am getting back into it again.”
Defending champion, David Frost of South Africa, opened with a 71 while 1994 Open champion Nick Price took a 72 on his first competitive round of the year. Anthony Wall, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the other side of Johannesburg last week, began strongly with a 70.