After battling back from numerous injuries to win his third European Tour event last season, South Africa’s Darren Fichardt said he feels “ten years” younger now after a four under par 68 put him in contention going into the weekend at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Fichardt won his first European Tour event in nine years at the St Omer Open last June after regaining his card at the 2011 Qualifying School, putting to rest the previous seasons of struggle that had seen his game blighted by a succession of neck, elbow and hand injuries.
After opening with an excellent five under par 67 in the 19th edition of the most lucrative tournament on the Sunshine Tour schedule – and the second event of The 2013 Race to Dubai – the Pretorian consolidated an excellent start on Friday at Leopard Creek Country Club, despite being left to curse his luck on an opening few holes that saw birdie efforts horseshoe out at both the 12th and 13th holes – his third and fourth.
A first birdie of the day came at the 18th before further gains at the second, third – where he hit his eight iron approach to within five feet – and sixth holes to climb into third place with the weekend to come.
“Today was solid and even though it was a bit of a shaky start I still haven’t made a bogey this week so you can’t argue with that,” said Fichardt. “I was unfortunate really to not make a few more birdies but the four at 18 kick-started my day and I had a better back nine.”
After completing his highest finish on The European Tour for six years with an 84th place in The 2012 Race to Dubai, the 37 year old said he felt rejuvenated and praised the influence of his family – with whom he has travelled to Mpumalanga this week.
“I was injured the previous four years so I didn’t do as much travelling about and playing in Europe and I had to change my swing so as not to aggravate the physical problems and now I’m back swinging like I did ten years ago.
“The game is very good and now it’s a matter of getting up there as often as I can to learn again and learn how to win.
“But having my family around definitely helps me stay relaxed and enjoy the week. After the round you can go and sit down with them and do the stuff you would be doing at home; the kids are swimming, you can go and have a braii so it’s brilliant.”
And as compatriot Schwartzel and Frenchman Bourdy surged into a four-shot lead with respective rounds of 64 and 65, Fichardt was philosophical about the challenge that lies ahead over the next 36 holes while realising he is on the right track.
“Let’s hope they had their best day today!” Fichardt said. “I’m just going to go out and play my game and see what happens. I don’t want to push it too hard because I’m happy with nine under par; what I’m doing already seems to be working pretty well just hitting fairways and greens so I’ll be looking for more of the same.”
The European Tour’s most recent champion, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, also played his way into contention on Friday after a four under par 68 saw him jump into the top ten.
Jamieson, who signed for an eight under par 57 on the modified layout at Royal Durban last Sunday to help claim his maiden European Tour title at the Nelson Mandela Championship, started from the tenth tee and made back-to-back birdies from the 13th hole before further gains at the second, third – where he almost holed his eight iron for eagle – and sixth holes.
Only a bogey at the ninth – his last hole – slightly soured the Glaswegian’s day, but Jamieson said he was playing some of his best golf at Leopard Creek.
He said: “I played very well today, in fact from tee to green I was a lot better than I played either round last week but that’s how golf works sometimes. Four under is still a great score but it could have been even better.
“I feel like if I can be in the hunt going into the back nine on Sunday then I’ve got as good a chance as anyone. Obviously there are a couple of guys that are quite far ahead just now so I’m probably going to need a couple of really low scores at the weekend to stand a chance.”