In extremely windy conditions at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club in northern France, Van der Walt only managed to drop a single shot as five birdies took him clear of Frenchman Victor Riu, who finished birdie-birdie-eagle en route to a 68.Van der Walt started steadily with seven pars, after teeing off at the tenth early in the day, before birdies at the 17th and 18th took him to the turn in two under and three birdies on the back nine, allied with a single bogey at the par four third, handed him the outright lead.
“I managed the ball really well today,” said the 38 year old. “I have been doing that well the last few weeks but the putting hasn’t been great. I holed a few putts today which was good.“I made a nice one on 17, from about 30 feet and downhill which broke about six feet, and another at 18 too but all credit to the greenkeepers because they slowed the greens down a little and if they didn’t do that there would be putts going off the green in that wind.
“I drive straight so I can take driver more than a lot of guys and if you can shape it with the wind you’ll get an extra 20 or 30 yards out of the tee shot which helps. The course really suits my eye too.”Van der Walt has had limited starts in The Race to Dubai this season but the George native believes a good week at Saint Omer could turn his fortunes around.
Riu, another morning starter, was the highest-placed Frenchman after negotiating his final three holes in four under par to finish in second place as the afternoon groups struggled to cope with increasing winds.After that superb finish to his opening round, the Parisian is hoping to carry that confidence into his second round and push on after a steady, if somewhat unspectacular, start to the season.
“I was pretty solid and focussed otherwise and didn’t make any mistakes. I played my approaches into good areas to leave myself with uphill putts and that’s very important here because the downhill putts are difficult.“I have only missed one cut this year but I haven’t been good enough at the weekends so I need to be more consistent all week from now on and hopefully I can start here.
“I want to try and keep the momentum going from that finish today and stay in a good state of mind and I think the weather will be nicer so it will be good.”
Meanwhile, the third-placed Daniel Brooks of England produced a marvellous comeback, after a triple-bogey at the 14th, his fifth, meant he was four over through five holes before two birdies and two eagles earned him an unlikely two under par 69.Brooks’ compatriot Simon Dyson sits five shots off the lead after three bogeys in the final four holes meant he had to settle for a one over par 72.