Fichardt leads Tshwane Open by one shot over Akesson after first round

Darren Fichardt at the Tshwane Open
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Darren Fichardt leads the Tshwane Open thanks in part to a birdie on the longest par-5 hole in European Tour history.
By news services

Series: European Tour

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 | 1:56 p.m.

CENTURION, South Africa -- Darren Fichardt of South Africa birdied the longest par-5 in European Tour history Thursday to lead the inaugural Tshwane Open by one stroke after the first round.

Fichardt shot a 7-under-par 65 and was one of three players in the top 24 to need only four shots on the 685-yard fourth hole at the Els Club course at the Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate.

''I hit driver, 3-iron, 7-iron and holed a 12-foot putt,'' said Fichardt, who lives 10 minutes from the Els Club. ''But I mean, at that length, into the wind and with the fairways not running, it's not a fun hole.''

Bjorn Akesson of Sweden and South African Keith Horne were at 66, with six players at 67. Darren Clarke opened with a 69 while Michael Campbell was at 72 and Jose Maria Olazabal at 76.

''This golf course is awesome, it's very fair,'' Fichardt said. ''The greens are very soft, so you're able to attack the flags.''

Two weeks ago, Fichardt captured his fourth European Tour title in winning the Africa Open at East London. Last week, he was seventh in an event on southern Africa’s  Sunshine Tour.

''I've been playing for eight weeks in a row and I don't even know what's going on,'' he said. ''I'm just going with the flow and hitting one shot at a time, so I'm looking forward to a break after this week.''

Akesson joined Fichardt in the lead after birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 and an eagle-3 at the 15th. Akesson, however, bogeyed the 17th to drop into second.

In the big group in third were England's David Howell and Gary Lockerbie, South Africa's Charl Coetzee and Jean Hugo, India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Chile's Mark Tullo.

Fichardt, 37, scored a 31 on the back nine before firing birdies on the first, fourth and sixth holes to take his one-stroke lead.

"The swing is good and I'm putting well," Fichardt said. "This golf course is awesome – it's very fair. The greens are very soft, so you're able to attack the flags. I'm happy with 7 under to start off with."

Singh, who won the Scottish Open last year, was pleased with his short game on the testing course.

"I love playing in South Africa. I've always had good results and it always gives me positive vibes and good memories when I come back," he said. "Things have worked out nicely that I'm back here and I love the course. I'm happy with the way I hit the ball and I putted well.

"When it's windy and you miss a few greens, you need to make some up and downs, and that's what I did," he added. "I holed a lot of putts today and I'm happy with the way the round turned out."