Last year, six players contested a play-off for the dunhill championship at Houghton Golf Club and the tendancy for log-jams to occur at the top of the leaderboard continued in the first round of the 2004 tournament as three players – Anders Hansen, Alan McLean and Marcel Siem – led the way.
The trio all carded seven under par 65s in the sodden conditions on the Johannesburg course, which has seen rain fall on it almost constantly since Monday morning, to lead the way by one shot from Frenchmen Gregory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin, and Søren Hansen of Denmark.
For Anders Hansen, the bogey free round was the ideal tonic to the way he finished the South African Airways Open at Erinvale Golf Club last week, the Dane leading the tournament into the back nine on Sunday before falling victim to the demanding finishing stretch and eventually having to settle for a share of ninth place.
Lesser players would have found difficulty in picking themselves up from the blow but Hansen showed a refreshing approach to events.
“To be honest I wasn’t that disappointed from last week, I didn’t think there was any point in being disappointed,” said the 2002 Volvo PGA champion. “I had been away from golf for a while and you can’t really be disappointed about being in the lead after 65 holes.
“It would be stupid to go away too disappointed to go to the next tournament. I was confident, and I am still confident and still playing well. But golf is a funny game, anything can happen any time, no matter how well you are playing.”
Certainly if Hansen continues in the flawless form he showed in round one, he will have no reason to be disappointed this week, his only departures from par being seven birdies, the pick of the bunch coming at the 18th – his tenth hole of the day – where he fired an exquisite pitch to within a couple of inches of the cup.
First to join Hansen in pole position was Germany’s Marcel Siem who, like his Danish counterpart, also enjoyed a bogey-free trip around the damp fairways and greens of Houghton.
The 23 year old from Dusseldorf, whose finish of 95th on the Volvo Order of Merit in 2003 was his highest position since joining the Tour in 2001, admitted his putting had been the key to his round but also conceded that he had been fortunate with his tee-time.
“It was much easier to have the earlier start because the greens are getting bumpy, so it is a little bit unlucky for the guys in the afternoon but I guess it changes round tomorrow,” said Siem.
“But the course is good and the greens are good considering how much rain they have had on them over the past four days.”
Siem made the bulk of his scoring on the front nine with four birdies, the most spectacular being a curling 18 foot putt for a three on the first hole – his tenth of the day having started on the tenth – but he also notched three more gains on the way home.
The third member of the leading group was South African based Scot Alan McLean, who gained his European Tour card at the Qualifying School finals in Spain last November and celebrated his first start of the 2004 season with a fine opening round.
As with his fellow pace-setters McLean, whose best European Tour performance to date came when he finished tied for tenth in the dunhill championship in 2002, did not shed a shot all day and produced a spectacular finish, birdieing both the 17th and 18th after taking failing to take advantage of his length by only notching a par five at the 511 yard 16th.
If he did not take advantage at the 16th, he more than made up for it at the last with a stunning second shot. In the bunker from the tee at the 531 yard hole, the 33 year old crashed a five wood from the sand to the front edge of the green, from fully 250 yards away, from where he two putted for birdie.
“I think the conditions actually helped me a little bit today,” he said. “I carry the ball a long way but when the fairways are running, a lot of people can get up there too. But if you carry the ball without a lot of run it can be a big help on days like today.”
Joint fourth placed Jacquelin carried on the good work of last week at Erinvale where he finished in a tie for fifth place, with a battling 66, carding seven birdies to more than make up for his solitary dropped shot of the day at the 13th where he bunkered his approach shot.
“I’m pleased with my score but I actually didn’t strike the ball that well today and my putting was the key for me today, it saved my round,” he said.
Jacquelin was joined on six under par 66 by another Hansen, Anders’s compatriot Søren, who birdied two of the last three holes, and Gregory Havret of France, who recovered with a birdie at the 18th after having three putted for bogey at the 16th.
Defending champion Mark Foster opened with a level par 72 while tournament favourite and winner of last week’s South African Airways Open, Trevor Immelman, who partnered Foster, carded a 70.