African Golf - Branden Grace leads after opening round of the Sunshine Tour Vodacom Championship

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Even after the morning rains had softened the greens at Pretoria Country Club, Branden Grace was able to putt confidently to take a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the R2.65-million Vodacom Championship.

He carded an eight-under-par 64 with an eagle, seven birdies and a single bogey to lead by one from the early leaders Hennie Otto and Thomas Aiken, while Jbe’ Kruger played in the afternoon and also finished on seven-under 65.

“I didn’t actually make any mistakes,” said Grace. “That bogey was maybe the wrong club from the fairway. I just hit it too hard and was just over the green, and I didn’t manage to get it up and down.”

At times during the morning, it rained hard enough to suggest the course might have become waterlogged and play would have to be suspended, but it wasn’t and the greens held up well.

“We all thought the greens were going to get bumpy but we were all very surprised,” said Grace. “The ball rolled very nicely and the speed of the greens stayed very consistent. If you hit good putts on good lines and good speed, they were going in.”

But the softer greens certainly made it possible for all the players to go for the pins. “After the rain this morning the game plan was just to hit everything straight at it,” said Grace.

Otto, too, was pleased to be able to fire away at the flags: “The golf course is wet, so you can attack the flags today,” he said.

“It all comes down to putting again. I think I had 26 or 27 putts and that makes a big difference,” he added.

Aiken was in that ballpark with his putting too. “I had 27 putts, and it’s the first time I’ve broken 30 in a while so it’s a step in the right direction and it shows on the scorecard,” he said.

Grace was better than that. “I haven’t counted my putts yet, but I’m sure I’ll find that it was fewer than 25,” he said.

Otto started quietly on the 10th, but pulled his drive right on 13. “That’s the one place you don’t want to be,” he said.

He took the resultant bogey and responded with three birdies and an eagle from the 15th to the 18th. He made four more birdies on his way in for his 65.

Aiken’s round was bogey-free, and he was pleased with that after some weeks of inconsistency. “This is my ninth week in a row, so a little bit of fatigue doesn’t do your mind wonders. It’s still early days, but nice to get out the blocks well,” he said.

Kruger has had a golden run during the Sunshine Tour’s summer, but has yet to pull off that big win.

“I can just keep doing what I am doing,” he said. “I’m trying hard, but it just hasn’t happened over the last two weeks. Last week, I battled with my concentration over the last 18, but I was hitting some good putts today – 27 of them, and that’s the first time in two months I’ve broken 30.”

Last week’s winner of the Telkom PGA Championship Michiel Bothma was two off the pace on six-under, together with Doug McGuigan, Mark Murless, Darren Blair and Divan van den Heever.

George Coetzee opened with a four-under-par 68, former champions James Kingston and Richard Sterne opened with rounds of 69 and 70 respectively, and Louis Oosthuizen struggled to a two-over-par 74.

Golf Scores (RSA unless specified):

64 - Branden Grace

65 - Hennie Otto, Thomas Aiken, Jbe' Kruger

66 - Doug McGuigan, Divan van den Heever, Michiel Bothma, Mark Murless, Darren Blair

67 - Ryan Thompson, Stuart Clark (WAL), Louis de Jager, Tjaart van der Walt, Ryan Tipping, Anton Haig

68 - George Coetzee, Callie Swart, Dawie Van der Walt, Andre Bossert (SUI)

69 - Sean Farrell (ZIM), Lindani Ndwandwe, James Kingston, Ulrich van den Berg, Mohamed Tayob, Adilson da Silva (BRA), Andrew Georgiou, Jake Roos

70 - Irvin Mazibuko, Grant Veenstra, Peter Karmis, Warren Abery, Richard Sterne, Dean Lambert, PG van Zyl, PH McIntyre, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Charl Coetzee, Tyrone Ferreira, Clinton Whitelaw, Gerhard Trytsman, Dewald Smit

71 - Theunis Spangenberg, Grant Muller, Jacques Blaauw, Darren Fichardt, Shaun Norris, Louis Moolman, Michael du Toit, Christiaan Basson, Cameron Johnston, Dion Fourie, Chris Swanepoel, Andrew Curlewis, Brandon Pieters, Andre Cruse, Marc Cayeux (ZIM), Hendrik Buhrmann, Attie Schwartzel, Derik Ferreira

72 - Dean Burmester, Adrian Ford, Ross Wellington, Nic Henning, Bradford Vaughan, Alan McLean (SCO), James Kamte, Willie van der Merwe, Louis Calitz, Matthew Carvell, Mike Curtis (ZIM), Heinrich Bruiners, Chris Williams, Jeff Inglis (ENG), Prinavin Nelson, Merrick Bremner, Keith Horne, Justin Walters, Neil Schietekat, Kevin Stone, Alex Haindl, Keenan Davidse, Morne Buys, Don Black, Divan du Piesanie

73 - Henk Alberts, Kenneth Dube, Omar Sandys, Vaughn Groenewald, Albert Pistorius, Des Terblanche, Tyrone Mordt, Jake Redman, Justin Harding, Christian Ries, Edrich Jansen, Michael Dreyer, Garry Hill, Johan du Buisson, Tyrone van Aswegen, Neil Cheetham (ENG)

74 - Ben Mannix (ENG), Walter Els, Nicol van Wyk, Ignatius Mketekete (ZIM), Deane Pappas, Josh Cunliffe, Ryan Cairns (ZIM), Louis Oosthuizen, Jaco Van Zyl, Thabang Simon, Roberto Lupini, Ben Hatchwell (CAN), Bennie van der Merwe, Derick Petersen, Alain Norris, Rossouw Loubser, Wallie Coetsee, Titch Moore, Warrick Druian

75 - Nico van Rensburg, Toto Thimba (Jnr), Brett Liddle, David Hewan, Daniel Greene, Alpheus Kelapile, Francois van Vuuren, Darryn Lloyd, Steve van Vuuren

76 - Dismas Indiza (KEN), Adriaan van Pletzen, Jean Hugo, Jaco Ahlers, TC Charamba (ZIM)

77 - Juan Langeveld, Anthony Michael, Oliver Bekker, Bobby Lincoln, Trevor Mahoney, Patrick O'Brien, Jack Kutumane

78 - Darren Holder, Steve Basson, Desvonde Botes, Tsietsi Chabangu, Reggie Adams

79 - Steven Ferreira, Teboho Sefatsa, Rocky Tlhabanyane

80 - Mark Williams, Alan Michell, Stuart Anderson (CAN), Wilhelm Groenewald, Taymen Erasmus

81 - Roy Mugglestone (ENG)

82 - Chris Corry (ENG)

83 - Keenan Paulsen

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