Titch Moore might be renowned for his power from the tee but the big-hitting South African made the conscious decision to reign himself in and play the percentage game at Durban Country Club and the switch paid dividends as he moved into a share of the lead with American Bruce Vaughan after the first round of the South African Airways Open.
The 28 year old from Port Elizabeth, who gained his playing privileges for the 2005 European Tour season through finishing 22nd in the 2004 Qualifying School Finals at San Roque, and the 48 year old Vaughan, carded fine seven under par 65s to take a one shot lead over another South African, Tjaart van der Walt.
Starting at the tenth hole, Moore was in blistering form, covering the six holes from the 13th to the 18th in five under par to be ‘out’ in 31. The highlight of that stretch came at the 527 yard 14th where he did take driver for once to leave himself only a six iron second shot and a six foot putt for a stunning eagle three.
Elsewhere it was caution and careful positioning on the tight layout with the swirling wind which paid off for the former South Africa Amateur champion as he notched six birdies which more than made up for his solitary dropped shot of the day at the fifth where his eight iron approach flew the green from the rough.
“There weren’t too many drivers for me out there today, a lot of irons instead,” he said. “But I hit a lot of good shots and managed to hole a few putts for a change, in fact, my putting was great today.
“You have to play well here but a lot of it is about patience as well. There are a lot of birdie holes out there but you have to take your pars where you can get them too.”
Without question the most demanding stretch is the opening five holes which Moore admitted he was delighted to come through in level par – with a birdie at the third and the bogey at the fifth – to protect his excellent earlier work.
“I got to the turn in five under par and I said to my caddie, if I can get through the next five holes in level par that will be fine and I managed to do that,” he said. “You are always looking to play catch up over the last four holes but if you can get through the first five holes in level par for the week, especially in the wind, then you will be in a good position.”
Moore put his score together in the morning but was joined late in the afternoon by Vaughan, who has been travelling from his Kansas home to play on the Sunshine Tour for 17 years.
Indeed no-one was more surprised at his lofty position than the American himself considering the problems he has been having with his left knee, originally caused by a college football injury, but which has plagued him for his entire career and which has necessitated him having six operations in the last two years.
“The last time they (the surgeons) inset into the bone and they told me everything looked good but that this was my last chance – if everything doesn’t hold then I am going to have to have a total knee (operation).
“I went back to playing in September but had to play in little three day tournaments where I had to take a cart and that was it. I am more shocked than anybody else being up there, because the only thing I have been able to do at home is putt but I putted pretty well today so I guess that has paid off.
“If it hadn’t been for the physios here I wouldn’t have been able to play the last two years. They are the best in the country. With their help I hope to play the next five tournaments (in South Africa) and I think I will get my knee back to somewhere like normal.”
One shot adrift of the pair after an enthralling first day’s play, van der Walt was also delighted to be in such a prominent position, especially coming so soon after the disappointment of losing in a play-off for a spot in the Open Golf Championship at St Andrews in the African International Final Qualifier last Friday.
“Because of what happened, I wasn’t too confident coming here because it was a huge disappointment not making it. We separated the field and then three of us had to go into a play-off for two spots. But like I said, you have to pick up your head and go on.”
The 30 year old, like Moore, included an eagle on his card, but his came at the exciting 274 yard 18th hole which tempts players to go for the green from the tee and which van der Walt did, finding the putting surface with a three wood before holing an audacious 40 footer for an eagle two.
Being from the local area, van der Walt had plenty of family in friends in the crowd but admitted the distractions which often come with playing at ‘home’ were a help to him rather than a hindrance.
“I have two other golfers staying with me this week, Warrick Druian and Ian Kennedy, so the house is busy,” he said. “I find when the house is quiet, that is a distraction for me but having people around keeps you busy and not pre-occupied with golf. In a way it is good to have those distractions.”
A group of six players bunched up behind the leading trio after opening with respective four under par 68s including US PGA Tour regular and Durban native Tim Clark, who won the tournament the last time it was played at the Durban Country Club in 2002, and who again put his local knowledge to good use.
Also there is England’s Malcolm Mackenzie, playing the 2005 season on a medical extension, but who admitted he feels fitter than he has done in years thanks to an extensive fitness programme undertaken at Loughborough University over the winter.
Elsewhere, defending champion Trevor Immelman, bidding to become only the fourth player in the tournament’s history to win the title in three successive years, opened with a two under par 70.