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31st May 2023

Back nine charge puts Keelan in front at SunBet Challenge

SUN CITY, North-West – Keelan van Wyk did not think he would be able to conquer the back nine at the Gary Player Country Club as comfortably as he did, but his marvellous five-under-par 67 set him up for pride of place on the leaderboard after the first round of the SunBet Challenge hosted by Sun City on Wednesday.

Although Van Wyk is just 24 years old and in only his third season on the Sunshine Tour, he is very familiar with the famous Gary Player Country Club layout and aware of all the challenges it poses. But starting his round on the 10th tee, he birdied the 12th, 14th, 16thand 18th holes to go to the turn already four-under-par.

After collecting two more birdies on the front nine, he made his only bogey of the day on the ninth, his last hole, but his 67 was still his best round of the season thus far.

“My family comes to Sun City quite a lot on holiday, so I’ve played a few rounds here and I feel quite comfortable, although I haven’t had that many good scores. Usually the back nine is the tougher nine for the way I like to play, so to be four-under at the turn was certainly better than I projected,” Van Wyk said.

“But I’ve definitely put a lot of hard work into my game lately and I have been playing quite well, but just not scoring. But today I had my iron-play under control, I birdied three of the par-threes, and I managed to roll some putts in.

“My plan was to give myself lots of chances for birdies, I took a few of them and I am very, very pleased with my round,” Van Wyk said.

The Riverlea resident’s only real mistake came on the ninth when he caught a flyer out of the rough and went 35 feet over the pin. He left his first putt short and missed his second as well, ending an otherwise fine round with a bogey.

But it was not a day for cruising at the Gary Player Country Club on Wednesday, overcast, cool weather making the course even longer and the usual premium on precise golf being in play.

Four golfers – Robin Williams, Matthew Spacey, Toto Thimba Jnr and Jason Smith – were sharing second place two strokes behind on three-under-par, and only 16 golfers finished under-par on the opening day.

Williams was five-under through 12 holes but a double-bogey at the par-four 13th was a telling blow. Spacey also notched up a six at the same hole, as well as one on the par-four eighth.

Smith had back-to-back bogeys on 12 and 13, as well as one on the third, but you can tell how well Thimba Jnr played by the fact he also, like Van Wyk, only dropped one shot in his opening round.