DAINFERN, Johannesburg – Zambian professional Madalitso Muthiya opened with a birdie and an eagle in his first two holes on his way to an eight-under-par 63 and the first-round lead in the Stella Artois Players Championship at Dainfern Golf Estate on Thursday.
Muthiya’s fast start to this Sunshine Tour event included another birdie at the fourth and he dropped only one shot in a solid round that sees him one stroke clear of the field.
“I played exceptionally well. I hit good tee shots and iron shots and putted well. I’m pretty excited about this start,” said Muthiya.
Jaco Ahlers, Tristen Strydom and Dylan Naidoo are his nearest challengers following their rounds of 64.
Rising star Luca Filippi also made a positive start with his six-under-par 65 and continues his good form in a year where he’s only missed two cuts.
Muthiya’s last and to date only victory on the Sunshine Tour came in the 2016 Vodacom Origins of Golf Wild Coast, which made him the first Zambian professional to win on the Tour.
He’s come close to ending that drought with a second place in last year’s SunBet Challenge at Sun City. In December 2018 he almost added his name to the prestigious South African Open trophy when he challenged for this title at Randpark before losing out to Louis Oosthuizen and finishing tied seventh overall.
“I feel like I’ve been playing well throughout the course of this year but my putter has let me down. It’s not that I’m necessarily hitting bad putts, but sometimes you go through a season where you just don’t make putts. It’s been frustrating for me because it came around the time of the Challenge Tour events. So I’m pretty pleased that the putts have started to drop this week,” Muthiya said.
Behind him, Muthiya has the experience of nine-time Sunshine Tour winner Ahlers, who didn’t drop a single shot in his opening round. And alongside Ahlers is the youth of Strydom and Naidoo.
Strydom in particular has been pushing hard for a breakthrough victory on the Sunshine Tour. He has four second-place finishes, most notably when he recently finished runner-up in the Challenge Tour co-sanctioned Mangaung Open in Bloemfontein.
Defending champion Jaco Prinsloo is four shots off the lead following a 67, while multiple DP World Tour champion George Coetzee struggled on day one with a round of two-over 73. – Michael Vlismas
Photo Credit: Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour