Last June Brett Rumford led from start to finish to claim his maiden European Tour title in the Aa St Omer Open and the 26 year old Australian gave himself the ideal chance to repeat the feat when he moved into the lead after the first round of the South African Airways Open.
Rumford’s flawless eight under par 64, not only equalled the course record at Erinvale Golf Club, set jointly last year by Philip Golding, Ian Hutchings and Tjaart Van de Walt, it also saw him move one shot clear of the field, his closest challenger being Welshman Stephen Dodd.
“Leading from start to finish is probably the hardest way to win a golf tournament but I proved to myself in St Omer that I could do it,” said the Australian. “It gives you confidence and confirms that you are able to compete at this level.”
Rumford certainly proved that to be the case once again, taking advantage of the relatively benign early morning conditions at the Somerset West course to take control of the co-sanctioned tournament with the Sunshine Tour.
Starting at the tenth hole, the Australian immediately made his intentions clear with a wedge approach to within a foot of the pin to set up his first birdie of the day. Two more followed to see him reach the turn in 33 but it was par saving putts at the first and second holes – his tenth and 11th of the day – that kept his round together.
“I holed from about ten feet at the first and about six feet at the second and although they weren’t for birdie, they felt just as good because they helped me keep the momentum going.”
Rumford certainly took full advantage with four birdies in a row to follow and, like all good entertainers, he saved the best for last, firing a nine iron to 15 feet at the ninth hole before rolling in the putt for his eighth and final birdie of the day.
Closest challenger Stephen Dodd also birdied the ninth – his final hole of the day – to help him to an excellent 65. Like Rumford, the Welshman notched eight birdies in a sparkling effort, the only difference to the leader being the fact he did shed a shot on the way round, at the par five seventh, where he found sand from the tee.
The 37 year old finished tied for eighth place in the event last year and admitted he felt comfortable in the South African surroundings. “I do like it here, I like the course and I think that was reflected in the way I scored today,” he said.
“With the weather the way it is at home over the winter you are not really able to do any quality practice so you don’t really know how you are going to play when you come out. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but it was nice at the same time.”
One shot behind Dodd stood three players who ended their opening rounds on six under par 66, leading South African contenders Hendrik Buhrmann and European Tour Member Hennie Otto, and England’s Steve Webster.
Webster came close to landing the title two years ago at The Country Club in Durban but despite a bold final round 64, he lost out to home favourite Tim Clark. "I played well then and I have good memories of South Africa," he said.
Elsewhere, amongst the players in contention after the opening round was seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie who pronounced himself more than happy with his opening four under par 68, considering he was one over par for his round after six holes.
“I was struggling a bit on the front nine,” admitted Montgomerie. “I was a little bit anxious really you know with a new caddie, new shoes, new bag, new ball and new clubs obviously, I was just feeling my way. Then I relaxed on the back nine and managed to score four under which was good and puts me in a good position for tomorrow.
“People say you shouldn’t change more than one thing but after last year’s disappointing season I decided to change almost everything. So it does feel a little bit like starting again but I feel I’ve had to. The last three or four years haven’t worked out very well and I intend to get it going this year.”
Three shots behind Montgomerie, defending champion Trevor Immelman opened with a one under par 71. "At least I got the first round of the year out of the way and hopefully shook off the rust," he said.