Thursday, 15 December 2005

Reuters - Defending champion Tim Clark of South Africa and rising Englishman Ross Fisher equalled the course record at the Links at Fancourt to share the lead after the first round of the South African Airways Open on Thursday. The pair fired five under par 68s on the windswept southern Cape coast to match the record held by South African trio Steve van Vuuren, Hennie Otto and Thomas Aiken.

Sweden’s Henrik Nystrom birdied the last for a 69 and third spot on his own, while compatriot Mattias Eliasson and South African Charl Schwartzel share fourth place after opening with rounds of three under par 70.

But there was no joy for home favourites Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

World Number Four Goosen failed to take advantage of an early tee time when conditions were calmer and posted two double bogeys in a level par 73.

Els, the World Number Five and winner of last week’s dunhill championship at Leopard Creek, struggled to a three over par 76 that included four bogeys, one double bogey, an eagle and a solitary birdie.

Clark, who turns 30 on Saturday, also had an early tee time and took full toll of the relatively benign conditions by returning only one bogey.

Fisher started his round six hours later when the wind was beginning to strengthen.

Starting at the 10th hole, the 25 year old Englishman reeled off five birdies to blaze through his first nine in a best-of-the-day 32 strokes.

He dropped shots at the first and eighth but birdies at the fifth and ninth earned him a share of the lead on the opening day of the second oldest national championship.

Clark, who also began at the 10th, gave his round a big boost when he struck a glorious three-wood second shot to 12 feet and sank his putt for an eagle at the 18th.

More birdies at the second, third and eighth put him in line for the outright course record before he faltered with a bogey at the ninth, his last.

But he remained happy with his day’s work. He said: “I got lucky because the wind was not a factor, but you still had to hit good tee shots. The idea today was to hit fairways because if you hit it in the wrong spot, you could get any number.

"I certainly was not attacking the flags today. I was very cautious, hitting away from the flags and getting on the safe side."

Eliasson notched two eagles on the back nine to share fourth position with Schwartzel, who was runner-up to Clark in this event last year and second behind Els in last week's dunhill championship.

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