Southern Cape’s Johan Marais stormed to the A-Division lead on Wednesday, but the Fancourt golfer has former champion Mellette Hendrikse hot on his heels at the weather-hit Indwe Risk Services South African Senior Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
Marais carded a superb five-under-par 67 at Pecanwood Country Club to set the clubhouse target, but will have an anxious wait to see if his mark holds up when the first round is completed on Thursday morning.
A tenacious lightning storm over the Hartebeespoort dam forced the organisers to abandon play in the afternoon, with Hendrikse lurking at four under on the 18th tee and Robin Ashby from Zwartkops on three under through 13 holes.
Marais was delighted to be in such a strong position so early in the championship.
“I had no expectations coming here, because I’ve been struggling to find some form in the last two months,” he said. “I just couldn’t get anything going, but it all come together today.”
Marias bogeyed the second, but rallied with three birdies in a row from the third. He bookended a bogey at the eighth with birdies at the seventh and ninth and turned in five under.
After erasing a bogey at the 11th with birdie at the next hole, he reeled in two more gains at the 15th and 18th holes at the Jack Nicklaus-designed championship layout.
“I three-putted for bogeys at two and eight and didn’t up-and-down from the bunker at 11,” the 51-year-old said. “Otherwise, the game was really solid. The way I played today, I felt good enough to turn pro.”
Hendrikse arrived at Pecanwood on the back of his fifth victory this season and maintained the kind of form that has seen him dominate the senior rankings all year.
The Akasia golfer offset two bogeys with three birdies in his opening loop and picked up another birdie at the second hole after the turn.
At the par-five fifth, he drained a four-footer for eagle to get within a shot of Marias.
“Both bogeys was as a result of this hook I’m fighting,” said the 54-year-old. “I’m striking the ball well, but I’m pushing it too far right sometimes. The rest of the game is solid, especially the irons and you need that kind of accuracy around this layout.”
Ashby could certainly throw a spanner in the works if he goes low over his finishing holes.
“I think a 67 was always the cards for me,” he said. “I got my irons in close and the putter behaved. The set up rewarded solid approach shots, but it punished any wayward shots.
“Hopefully I can pick up another birdie or two and go into the second round in a strong position.”
Meanwhile senior golf chairman Chris Delport is also in the clubhouse at three under, while three-time champion Jock Wellington lags four off the pace. Former SA tennis ace Kevin Curren returned a 75.
FIRST ROUND LEADERBOARD (top 20 / completed scores only)
67 Johan Marais
69 Chris Delport
71 Jock Wellington
72 Julian Visser; Basie van der Merwe; Tim Hewan; Steve Smit
73 Peter van Coller; Johan Coetzer
74 Ivan Palframan; Mark O’Brien; Herman September; Leon Scheepers; Fanus van Niekerk
75 Kevin Curren
76 John Durie; Adrian Kriel; Brian Dougherty; Kobus van den Berg; Bruno van Eck; Darach Deehan
77 George Bezuidenhout; Eugene Louw; Ramon Rahme; Lionel Davids; Lance Froneman; Ralph Ellerbeck; Conrad Rauch; Stephen Joubert; Anton Bezuidenhout