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.
PA Sport


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."