DAINFERN, Johannesburg – Darren Fichardt signed off with a birdie and an eagle for a round of 10-under-par 62 to lead the first round of the Stella Artois Players Championship by a single stroke at Dainfern Country Club on Thursday.
On a day of low scores Fichardt had to produce his bit of the magic in the windier afternoon conditions. He started his round with two straight birdies, made four consecutive birdies to the turn, added another at the par-five 12th and then took the lead with his birdie-eagle finish. Tristen Strydom led for most of the day with his opening 63 before Fichardt’s 62.
“It was quite windy in the afternoon, but the greens are so good that if you hit a good putt it goes in. The greens are really primed for low scoring,” said Fichardt.
The experienced Sunshine Tour professional admits his game hasn’t been at the standard he wants this year. But rounds such as this one, and a previous 62 in the third round of the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open in February, certainly give him the confidence that what he’s working on is close to paying off.
“I haven’t been playing that well this year, but I’ve been working really hard. I’ve been trying to find the secret to a few things in my game, and today was a good indication that I’m almost there. I’ve almost got it sorted out, and I can look forward to some good rounds ahead.”
It was one of those rounds where Fichardt knew from the start that something special was on the cards.
“I’ve played Dainfern a few times in my life. It’s a traditional golf course, which is nice. You don’t have to try and overpower the golf course. It’s more positional play off the tee. I started the round with a good tee shot and almost hit it in the hole with my second shot. I made a birdie there and then a solid birdie on the next hole and that was already a good start. The wind was blowing so my idea was just to hang in there. Then I managed to sneak in a few more birdies and before I knew it I was six under after nine, so that was nice.”
Behind him, Strydom also felt comfortable in a tournament where he finished third last year, and at a time of the year when he always seems to play well. After his third-place finish in this event last year he went on to win his first Sunshine Tour title in the season-ending Tour Championship a week later.
“I’ve struggled with my game of late but I always seem to play well towards the end of March and beginning of April. It’s nice to feel like I’m getting out of the struggle and enjoying golf again and competing. When you enjoy it you end up playing really well,” he said. – Michael Vlismas