SUN CITY, North-West – Like a smooth-running car, American Brooklin Bailey felt that all the different parts of his game were in sync on Thursday as he raced into the lead after the first round of the Blue Label Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club.
Bailey, who began his round on the 10th hole, collected five birdies and an eagle for a bogey-free 65, that translated into 15 points in the modified Stableford scoring system. He was four points ahead of Portugal’s Stephen Ferreira, who had six birdies and a bogey, while the leading players under the South African flag were Ockie Strydom and Jaco van Zyl in third place on 10 points.
“It was nice, hot weather so the body got loose early and I felt super-comfortable after making a great start with birdies on my second and fourth holes,” Bailey said. “I played really well, it just felt fluent in terms of what my swing, my body and the ball were doing.”
Coming from Texas, a typically hot October day in the Pilanesberg, with the temperature reaching 36°, was no bother for the 28-year-old Bailey, who has played the famous Gary Player Country Club layout a couple of times before and embraces the challenge rather than being daunted by it.
“I haven’t gone on very well here before, although I feel like I played good golf but did not get much out of it,” Bailey said. “But it’s a venue I really like, a real test of golf, it tests every facet of your game.
“A lot of credit must go to my caddy George, who made a lot of great decisions and kept me patient. It was a great decision to lay up on 18 and make birdie, and then I holed out from the bunker on the first hole for eagle. Then I hit it to a foot on the next hole for another birdie,” a delighted Bailey said.
Picking up nine points around the turn really knocked the other contenders out of the first-round race, and Bailey is now focused on backing up Thursday’s marvellous score with another low one in Friday’s second round.
“My game has been there this season, just not necessarily full-time,” Bailey admitted. “You’re not going to win or finish top-10 every week, but making cuts is important and in my last seven events I’ve had three top-10s and missed four cuts.
“So I’m really focusing on my consistency. I’m playing well when I’m on form, but there are little parts of my game that need improving, especially in putting and finding the fairways, those are certainly the two key areas.
“I felt like I’ve found my Driver, and after having a putting lesson this week and working on it for three hours one morning, I was really feeling comfortable on the greens as well,” Bailey said.
ROUND 1 SCORES
15 – Brooklin Bailey
11 – Stephen Ferreira
10 – Ockie Strydom, Jaco Van Zyl
9 – MJ Viljoen, Ryan Van Velzen, Jbe’ Kruger
8 – Stefan Wears-Taylor, Louis Albertse
7 – Doug McGuigan, Jayden Schaper, Luca Filippi, Wynand Dingle, Joe Long
6 – Christiaan Basson, Jaco Prinsloo, Peter Karmis, Pieter Moolman, JJ Senekal, Lyle Rowe, Steve Surry
5 – Jared Harvey, Rhys West, Anthony Michael
4 – Matthew Spacey, Christiaan Burke, Rourke van der Spuy, Combrinck Smit, Keith Horne, Keenan Davidse, Jean Hugo
3 – Neil Schietekat, Tristin Galant, Dan Erickson
2 – Michael Kok, Jaco Ahlers, Hayden Griffiths, Dylan Naidoo, Kyle McClatchie, Martin Rohwer, Martin Vorster
1 – Estiaan Conradie, Merrick Bremner, Herman Loubser, Jake Redman, Makhetha Mazibuko
0 – Madalitso Muthiya, Casey Jarvis, Richard Joubert, Hennie O’Kennedy, Dean O’Riley, Sean Bradley
-1 – Ryan Tipping, Luke Jerling, Erhard Lambrechts, Keagan Thomas, Malcolm Mitchell, Thabang Simon, Rupert Kaminski
-2 – Jean-Paul Strydom, Danie Van Niekerk, Adam Breen, Gerard du Plooy, Therion Nel
-3 – Dylan Mostert, Clinton Grobler, Hennie Otto, Jacques P de Villiers
-4 – Riekus Nortje
-5 – Albert Venter, Kyle Barker, Heinrich Bruiners, Jacques Blaauw
-6 – Ruan Conradie
-7 – Ruan Korb
-9 – Andre De Decker, Luke Brown, Bradley Bawden, Ricky Hendler
-12 – Dwayne Basson