Dean Robertson got his 2001 European Tour season off to a flying start in South Africa with a course record ten under par 62 to seize the lead in the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the Houghton Golf Club.
The 30 year old Scot beat the previous best mark of 63 set by David Frost in 1997 to give himself a three shot advantage over England’s Paul Eales, who recovered from a bogey five at the opening hole to post an excellent 65.
There were no such dramas for Robertson, the 1999 Italian Open champion, who rattled in ten birdies in a flawless round over the Johannesburg course, 18 holes which featured identical halves of 31-31.
Key to success for the Scot came through a putting display he described as easily his finest ever in tournament play. “I'm absolutely delighted," he said. "The first day of the New Year you don't really set yourself any expectations as you have no form, and in the pro-am my game wasn't in that good shape as it was my first full round since November.
"But I was in the mental attitude of taking what you get and I holed absolutely everything. It was certainly the finest putting display I've ever had on a golf course - I had 22 putts and it could have been 18.
"I never normally play well in the southern hemisphere at the start of the year and I came here with the intention of making the cut in the first four events and coming good around the time of Dubai.
"Last year I couldn't come here because of a virus I picked up the previous November in Malaysia at the World Cup and it's good to be back. "The rough is a bit more forgiving this year. Before if you found the rough you had to chip out but a couple of times today I was in the rough and made birdie."
Robertson has been working hard with his coach David Whelan - the pair live just 250 yards apart at Wynyard Hall in the north east of England - and is intent on improving on his best finish of 25th in the Order of Merit in 1999.
Eales matched Robertson's inward half of 31 including escaping with a bogey on the 13th after finding the water but eventually holing out from 35 feet. After that, he played the remaining five holes in five under par, the highlight coming with an eagle three at the 523 yard 16th.
"The 13th was obviously the turning point because you're thinking you could throw away a good score and suddenly you hole a good putt, chip in on the next and feel a lot better about yourself," said Eales, who just kept his card on the tour last season.
"That is the key for me this year, trying to relax and enjoy it rather than beating up on myself and taking things with a pinch of salt.
"It's easy to do when things are going well but when you realise you are on a sticky wicket you get a bit anxious. Last season was the first time I've been in the position of hanging on for a card and it's not a nice place to be."
Amongst a cluster of players in third spot on six-under-par 66 after their first round were two Englishmen who hope 2001 will signal better times, namely Paul Broadhurst and Justin Rose.
Ryder Cup player Broadhurst’s last tournament was in March last year in Dubai where he pulled out injured from the second round after damaging his right hand, playing from the rough.
The problem was first diagnosed as ligament damage but, when there was still no improvement by August, the 35 year old sought a second opinion. A small break was then discovered and eventually corrected by exploratory surgery.
"I didn't feel in total control but I wasn't as nervous as I expected to be on the first tee," Broadhurst admitted. "A 66 is much more than I expected. If I'd broken par I would have been quite happy. I hit a lot of greens without being particularly close but holed some nice putts and was a bit lucky to hole a bunker shot for a two on the sixth.
"I suppose I was due a bit of luck and I got it there but I have a lot of work still to do to get my game back into the shape it was before the injury. I was playing well before then and I think I was also tied for the lead here after one round last year."
Broadhurst even survived a shank on the ninth hole, slicing the ball almost sideways with his second shot into a tree and needing a superb third shot and putt from 15 feet to save par.
"I might have expected the shank but not the 66!" joked Broadhurst who was unbeaten on his Ryder Cup debut at Kiawah Island with two points out of two. "One of my goals was to make the cut at this event and this has been an unexpectedly good start."
Rose, who finished fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as an amateur, revived memories of his finest hour with a brilliant start to the championship.
The 20-year-old, who turned professional the week after the Open before missing 21 cuts as a row, was delighted with his 66 after seeing his decision to come to South Africa a week early to practice pay off handsomely.
"I'm very pleased with that although there are still some things to work on," said Rose who had to go back to the Tour School last November for the third year in a row. "I'm driving it really well but hit some poor iron shots over the last few holes.
"I wasted a good chance for a birdie on the par five 18th because I had only a four iron second shot but pulled it left and it hit the grandstand and went over the green onto the ninth fairway."
Other players on 66 included England’s Steve Webster and Greg Owen, Ashley Roestoff of the host nation, Sweden’s Mathias Grönberg and Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher.
Further down the leaderboard, other players satisfied with their start included three time Open champion Nick Faldo, who opened with a four-under-par 68. "I'm pleased with that because I wasn't 100% sure what to expect and it was nice to come out and birdie the first hole," he said.
"That sets you in the right mood and you can't birdie them all if you don't birdie the first as my old caddie used to say! In the first tournament of the year you're never sure how you're going to play and it was a bit like fixing the aeroplane while you are flying out on the course."
Defending champion Anthony Wall also kept in touch on the course where he notched his maiden European Tour victory twelve months ago, carding a three under par 69.1st Round Scores
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