Thou­sands roar on rous­ing Rory

Catch of the day as Fisher jr, Horne take route 66 to lead SA Open by one

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT -

HOT favourite Rory McIl­roy lived up to his billing and No 2 world rank­ing to sit one shot off the pace af­ter the first round of the South African Open at Glen­dower yes­ter­day.

The North­ern Ir­ish­man thrilled the thou­sands of fans who turned up to watch with scin­til­lat­ing tee shots and equally im­pres­sive putting. Af­ter 18 holes the four-time Ma­jor win­ner had racked up seven birdies, to go with two bo­geys and one shot off the lead set by two home grown play­ers in Trevor Fisher jr and Keith Horne.

Fisher and Horne shot six­un­der par 66s to lead by one over McIl­roy, Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester, Jbe Kruger, and Jor­dan Smith from Eng­land.

Both Fisher and Horne, who led af­ter the first round here last year, made seven birdies and a lone bo­gey.

“It’s nice to make a good start,” said Horne. “I’m happy with my over­all game, but es­pe­cially the way I hit my irons to­day and the putting was good. I’m go­ing to have to fix the tee box be­cause I only hit four fair­ways.”

Horne could well have been in the out­right lead had he not ex­pe­ri­enced a mini im­plo­sion on the par five 15th hole. He walked off with a bo­gey in what for many play­ers yes­ter­day was a birdie hole.

“It was dis­grace­ful what hap­pened there,” said Horne, who came in late in the day af­ter tee­ing off in the af­ter­noon. “I just lost con­cen­tra­tion and it was an ugly bo­gey.”

Fisher, who was out early, said: “I hit some bad shots but also hit some good shots. The ball re­ally went where I wanted it to go. In gen­eral I’m happy.”

Sit­ting just one back is McIl­roy, who was off in front of thou­sands of fans at just af­ter 7am yes­ter­day morn­ing. Af­ter miss­ing a few good chances for birdie early in his round, he fi­nally got hot and made four in a row from 14 through 17.

He made an­other at the par five sec­ond (his 11th hole of the day) and looked poised to take com­plete con­trol of the round, but two poor ap­proach shots at four and five cost him dearly. He bo­geyed both to slip back into the field but the FedEx Cup cham­pion bounced back late in his round, rolling in fur­ther birdies at six and eight.

“Yeah, it was good … I mean it was my first com­pet­i­tive round in 2017,” said McIl­roy.

In fact, it was only the North­ern Ir­ish­man’s sec­ond round on the lay­out. His only pre­vi­ous out­ing on the course was in Tues­day’s pro-am.

“I felt I gave my­self a lot of chances, es­pe­cially on my front nine … it could have been six or seven un­der. It was a bit scrappy in places, but it’s a good way to start the tour­na­ment.”

McIl­roy birdied three of the four par 3s, knock­ing his tee shots very close at the sixth and 14th.

“I played the par 3s very well. I had some good iron shots, and some good drives, but I also made a cou­ple of sloppy swings com­ing in, but that’s some­thing I can hope­fully work on and erad­i­cate.”

Un­for­tu­nately for de­fend­ing cham­pion Bran­don Stone, it was a day to for­get; the win­ner here last year never get­ting into any kind of rhythm as he fired a dis­ap­point­ing 74, the same score as Ernie Els.

Retief Goosen also strug­gled to an 80, but vet­eran Sir Nick Faldo turned back the clock with an im­pres­sive 70, two un­der par at the age of 59. Well, he stuck it close on the par 3 sixth and 14th holes for birdies, but you can’t beat the 406 yard (371m) drive of Rory McIl­roy on the par 5 15th. It doesn’t get big­ger and bet­ter than that.

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

BIG SWING: Rory McIl­roy of North­ern Ire­land dur­ing the SA Open Golf Cham­pi­onship at Glen­dower Golf Club in Ekurhu­leni yes­ter­day. McIl­roy thrilled the fans with scin­til­lat­ing tee shots and equally im­pres­sive putting.

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