Thursday, 13 December 2007

(Reuters) – England’s Robert Rock defied windy conditions to seize the first round lead of two under par 70 at the South African Airways Open.

The 30 year old Englishman finished one stroke ahead of South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Ulrich van den Berg and Alex Haindl at the tournament co-sanctioned by The European and Sunshine Tours at the Pearl Valley Golf Estate.

"Top of the leaderboard is not a bad place to be, the wind was pretty strong out there," said Rock as the gusting winds reached speeds of 40 kilometres per hour.

With the wind battering every man in the field, it was no surprise to see a resurgent Darren Clarke edge his way to the top of the leaderboard. The Ulsterman joined the seven strong group of players on level par at the end of a tough opening day.

Retief Goosen, twice a winner of his National Open Championship and a double US Open Champion, posted a two over par 74, while his countryman Ernie Els, a four-times winner of this event, and European Tour Order of Merit leader Ross Fisher carded opening scores of 77.

 Current US Open Champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina was among the tournament favouritesbut will find himself in a second day battle to make the halfway cut after his eight over par 80.

He will certainly struggle to catch Rock if the Englishman can maintain such solid form over the coming three days at the Pearl Valley Golf Estate.
“You have to accept your shots are not going to get as close to the hole as they normally would,” said Rock, who is seeking a maiden Europena Tour victory. “This is really a week for chipping and putting and the short game."

Schwartzel, the Sunshine Tour's Number One for the last three years and winner of this year's Open de España, moved into joint second place despite a double bogey six at the 17th.

South African Trevor Immelman, the 2003 and 2004 champion, withdrew after two holes with a rib muscle injury.

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