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13th June 2024

Viljoen flies high with albatross to lead Mopani Zambia Open

KITWE (Zambia) – A wonderful albatross at the par-five fourth hole lifted MJ Viljoen to a six-under-par 66 and the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Mopani Zambia Open at Nkana Golf Club on Thursday.

Viljoen said his game-plan has generally been to hit three-woods off the tee, but the tee-box being moved up on the 484m fourth hole was why he decided to try his driver. And what a decision it was as he notched the first albatross of his career.

“I keep telling everyone it was just two perfect golf shots. There’s a little sluit in the way on the fourth, and I didn’t expect them to move the tee-box up. That gave me the idea to maybe try driver and I hit it over the sluit and into a perfect position. I had 187 metres to the flag and my six-iron only goes 180 and it was a touch into the wind. So I was never going to go too long and I could just swing as hard as I can.

“It came out just unreal and I saw it going straight for the hole. Jean Hugo and the guys on the next tee-box affirmed that it went in like a putt, if it had missed the hole it would have only been by two or three inches,” Viljoen said.

The tremendous round came at a time when the Serengeti-based Viljoen feels like he is getting back to being the golfer who soared to two Sunshine Tour wins and more than R4 million in prizemoney after joining the tour in 2015. But last season was a real struggle for him as he tried to juggle his commitments at home and playing on the Asian Tour and Challenge Tour; he finished 64th on the Order of Merit Delivered by the Courier Guy, the first time he was outside the top-30 since 2018/19.

He completed the season well, though, with top-20 finishes in the Stella Artois Players Championship and the Limpopo Championship. This season he has finished in ties for sixth, 14th and 34th in the three events so far.

“Last year was a struggle, but I have played good golf in the past so obviously I know what it takes. That kept me mentally alive, even though my head was all over the place playing on the Asian Tour, having some status on the Challenge Tour and trying to keep my card in South Africa. I also struggled with my equipment and made big changes at bad times.

“I was in a downward spiral but then I went back to my old equipment and my old coach, Hendrik Buhrmann. Shaun Landsberg looks after the mental side for me, telling me how the brain works and putting that puzzle together.

“So today was the way I know I can play and even though it’s just one round, it’s nice to get a pat on the shoulder from the game. I’m very happy with my round as a whole, I played very solid golf and I can’t see how I would not have a good score playing like that. It was pretty flawless,” the 29-year-old Viljoen said.

His divine moment on the fourth also separated him from the chasing pack, with Keegan Thomas and Jason Roets both shooting four-under 68s. Thomas was bogey-free around the 94-year-old, 6571m course, the only golfer to achieve that feat on Thursday.

Home favourite Madalitso Muthiya was in a tie for fourth on three-under-par after a 69 that included a seven on the par-five 17th. The Zambian is alongside Lyle Rowe and Heinrich Bruiners.