Dream start for Van Zylon December 3, 2015
South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl enjoyed a dream start on his debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge when he opened with a six-under-par 66 to share the first round lead with Henrik Stenson at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s great just to be here, so to play well in the first round makes it that much more special,” said Van Zyl, who along with Swede Stenson holds a one-stroke lead over defending champion Danny Willett.
Stenson was just as pleased with his 66 considering he’s struggled with flu the past few days. “I was very happy to just make it to the first tee, never mind shoot a 66. I’ve really struggled with the flu and felt drained out there. So it’s straight back to bed for me now,” he said after his bogey-free round.
Van Zyl though was all smiles after his performance. The South African started well with two birdies in his first three holes, added another at the ninth, and then closed with three birdies in his final five holes.
“I could feel my heart beating in my throat on the first tee. I mean this is ‘Africa’s Major’. I used to always be sitting at home getting the beers and biltong ready to watch this on TV. Now I’m getting the golf shoes and clubs polished instead. I’m thrilled,” he said.
Although it’s his debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, Van Zyl is used to the Gary Player Country Club and has played many Sunshine Tour events here in the past.
“This golf course really suits my eye. And distance control plays a really big part here,” he said.
At one shot behind them, Willett feels he’s perfectly placed to defend his title.
“It was a very solid round. It was good to get the first round out of the way and settle the nerves. I’m one behind and that’s a pretty good position to be in.” At four under is the duo of Branden Grace and Marc Leishman. Grace had only one bogey on his card on the 17th, and felt he left a few birdies out there.
“I left a couple out there, at least three birdies. But it’s only the first day and you just want to be in there and not too far behind, and I did that,” said the South African, who comes into this year’s tournament after a phenomenal season in which he won twice, contended in two of the four Majors and was one of the standout players at the Presidents Cup.
And the Sun City gallery showed their appreciation for his golf in 2015. “That was one of the best applause I’ve ever had on the first tee. It was very special, and to play good golf after that was nice,” he said.
American Keegan Bradley had an incredible first day. After opening with a triple bogey seven at the first, he made five consecutive birdies thereafter, and then closed out the nine with two bogeys on his way to an eventual 72.
Photo Credit: Luke Walker.