Jacquelin prospers at blustery Durban

1/9/2014 2:45:00 PM
Raphael Jacquelin  (Getty Images)
Raphael Jacquelin (Getty Images)

Raphaël Jacquelin defied windy conditions in Durban to lead the Volvo Golf Champions on the back of a stunning 67.

The ever-consistent Frenchman earned his place in the 36-man field via a triumph at the Open de España last year and set about making full use of it today.

With conditions at the Durban Country Club hardly favouring scoring and making drops almost inevitable, he produced a faultless round to end a shot ahead of nearest rival Louis Oosthuizen.

"I managed to get everything right," he said. "A bogey-free round; that's the key, to go bogey-free every round on this course.

"It's a new year and pretty good way for me to start, so that's great."

Complementing Jacquelin's 13 pars were five gains, the first coming via a long putt on the sixth.

Things almost got even better on the par five eighth as, having missed the green with an eight iron, he almost chipped in for eagle - although a birdie offered plenty of consolation.

Pars were the order of the day thereafter before the Frenchman completed his first round with three birdies in his final five holes.

Despite his efforts, Jacquelin may well be looking over his shoulder at the ominous sight of defending champion Oosthuizen.

The South African began in poor fashion as he bogeyed the first but that was to prove his only misstep of the day.

Showing an ability to scramble when necessary, he was typically exceptional with the irons - particularly when hitting stunning approaches to 14 and 17.

The upshot was him ending just a stroke behind Jacquelin and one ahead of Darren Clarke and Victor Dubuisson.

Utilising his vast experience of links golf, Clarke once again showed his penchant for excelling in blustery conditions.

The Northern Irishman, slimline having lost three stone in weight over recent months, delivered birdies on the second, eighth, tenth, 14th and 18th.

His best moment came at two when, having missed the green, he produced an exceptional chip to enjoy a gain amid a drop seeming likeliest.

Clarke dropped shots on five and 11, yet that did not detract from a fine round which he felt owed much to that aforementioned fitness regime.

"It's something, I took a look at myself in October and thought it's time to make a change," he said.

"I am feeling strong. I reached 10 today, whatever it was, hit it 300 off the tee into the wind and hit driver from 285 to 12 feet and I couldn't have reached there maybe five, six months ago.  So hopefully it will pay off."

Asked how much weight he has lost, Clarke - who is without a top 10 finish on The European Tour in two years - replied: "Enough but a little bit more won't do any harm."

Dubuisson, who earned his place in this event by winning the Turkish Airlines Open, owed much to an eagle at 14 as gains at six, ten, 13 and 18 came amid drops on two, 11 and 12.

Among those a shot further back is Colin Montgomerie, who was inches away from winning a Volvo Backhoe Loader excavator worth 75,000 US dollars (£45,500) by making a hole-in-one on the par-three 15th, although he admitted he would have swiftly asked the tournament sponsors for the cash instead and split it with caddie Alistair McLean.

The former Ryder Cup captain added: "I was playing well at the end of last year and I started to play a lot more golf. I had not been having much fun on 7,500-yard courses on the main tour but I am a member of three tours now (European Tour and two seniors tours) and it's given me more freedom to choose courses I can get round.

"It's very difficult and tricky out there. The wind was coming off the sea and made every hole a crosswind. You have to be very careful, you can make a mess out there in a hurry."

Perhaps the most remarkable 70 of the day came from 2013 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie Of The Year Peter Uihlein, who overcame a triple bogey on the first and drop on four by birdying the third, sixth, seventh, eighth, 14th and 15th.