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Five share first round lead

Idyllic conditions helped South African Richard Sterne and four rivals to fire opening rounds of seven-under-par 66 and share the lead after the first day of the Africa Open on Thursday.

Sterne and fellow South Africans Titch Moore and Trevor Fisher were joined at the top of the leaderboard by Sweden’s Patrik Sjoland and Denmark’s Mark Haastrup at the East London Golf Club.

Four players, including world number 65 Charl Schwartzel of South Africa—the highest-ranked golfer in the field—were one shot behind on six under par on the par-73 course.

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, chasing a place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team for the October clash at Celtic Manor in Wales, had a 69 that included six birdies and two bogeys.

Predicted high winds failed to materialise and Sterne, a five-times winner on the European Tour, was the first to take advantage of the good conditions.

The 28-year-old, who started at 0710 local time (0510 GMT) on the ninth hole, took the clubhouse lead before the afternoon three-balls teed off thanks to a bogey-free round that included seven birdies.

“I got off to a bit of a slow start today but I made some good putts for par and that kept my round going,” Sterne told reporters.

“That’s the key. I normally hit the ball pretty decent but I need to roll in those 20-footers and I had about eight or nine of them today so that helped.”

Moore, Fisher Junior and Sjoland all teed off in the afternoon with Moore and Sjoland birdying their last holes of the day, to sneak into the five-way tie.

Sjoland was the only one of the leaders to pick up an eagle which the 38-year-old, who went through qualifying school to earn his place on the European Tour this year, achieved at the par-five 15th.

Moore and Fisher Junior both picked up three consecutive birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth holes.

Haastrup was the last player to edge into a share of the lead thanks to a birdie on the 376-yard, par-four 18th hole.

England’s Nick Dougherty carded a three-over-par 76. His compatriot Robert Coles had a superb run as he reeled off six consecutive birdies to move into a share of the lead but the 37-year-old’s charge was ended by a double-bogey on the par-four seventh hole and he finished the day on five under par.

The Africa Open is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and South Africa’s Sunshine Tour.


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