Clarke and Schwartzel start strong at African Open, local star Pieters leads

east london golf club
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With a panoramic view behind them, players walked up the 13th fairway of the East London Golf Club during Thursday's first round of the Africa Open.
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PA Sport

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Published: Thursday, January 06, 2011 | 1:58 p.m.

Brandon Pieters was the clubhouse leader after Thursday's delayed Day 1 of the Africa Open as his 7-under-par round of 66 put him a shot clear in the first event on the 2011 calendar, co-sponsored by the European Tour and southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour.

The South African carded eight birdies, an eagle and three bogeys to lead a group of five players -- including Englishman Miles Tunnicliff, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet of France and fellow countrymen Jaco Van Zyl and Branden Grace -- on 6 under.

Swede Fredrik Ohlsson is the other man part of the group, although he still had one hole to play when bad light forced play to be stopped on the par-73 layout at East London Golf Club.

More than 90 minutes were lost at the start of the day due to heavy mist and rain, meaning several of the afternoon tee-offs will have to complete their rounds on Friday.

Eight players were a further shot back on 5 under after 68s, amongst them five Britons -- Saltman brothers Elliot and Lloyd, Ross McGowan, Robert Rock and Lee Slattery.

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke also made good starts to 2011, with both on 4 under, while 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen was a further shot behind on 3 under after his 70.

However, two-time major winner Retief Goosen had a forgettable day with five bogeys and three birdies seeing him end on a 2-over-par 75.

Pieters, though, will be the man to catch in Round 2 after the veteran local tour player put behind him an up-and-down front nine by stringing together five successive birdies on the back nine.

"I just hit three bad tee shots, but other than that I putted really good and was happy with the rest of my game,” said the 34-year-old, who started his round on the ninth hole. "Seven under, if it's leading by the end of today then that will be great, but if not, you don't win a tournament in the first round.

"Hopefully I'm here sitting with you on Sunday afternoon."

Ulsterman Clarke also had a good day as he bids to end a two-year winless streak by winning in South Africa.

"I was a bit rusty and hit some poor shots, but hit a few decent ones as well,” said Clarke. "My distance control on the wedges was poor, but that was to be expected after I had a bit of a break. So all in all, I'm pretty pleased with the start."

Clarke, who recorded a pair of eagles, two birdies and two bogeys, added: "There were a few mistakes, but I putted quite nicely. I made two silly bogeys on 13 and 14, but apart from that it was all right. I holed a really nice putt on 18 after playing the perfect tee-shot and playing a bit like a dog after that."