American rookie shoots nine birdies to lead South African Open


Johannesburg (AFP)

American Johannes Veerman fired nine birdies in a flawless 62 Thursday to lead the South African Open by one shot as he maintained a great start to his first European Tour season.

The key to the nine-under-par round at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg for the 27-year-old was finding 17 greens in regulation.

Having picked up two birdies on the front nine, Veerman claimed three in a row from 10 and four more between 15 and 18 to head Italian Nino Bertasio and South African JC Ritchie.

After just qualifying for a maiden European Tour, Veerman has proved his worth with two top 10 finishes in three starts before arriving in South Africa.

"I had a good round of golf today," he said after shooting 62 in an opening round in which preferred lies were permitted after heavy overnight rain.

"The course was set up for low scores. The wind did not blow hard, the rough was not long and the greens were receptive, so there was a good number out there.

"I kept hitting a lot of good shots on the front nine but did not make as many putts as I did on the back nine.

- Lot of birdie chances -

"On the back nine I made two long ones of 40-plus feet. I hit 17 greens today so that was a lot of chances I had for birdies.

"To start 2020 playing like this gives me a lot of confidence. It is only the first round, but it is a step in the correct direction."

Bertasio, whose 357 world ranking puts him 30 places below Veerman, had a chance to lead the field after an eagle three at 17 left him nine under.

But after being just short of the green on the final hole in two, he chipped past the pin and failed to hole a par putt.

Ritchie, a 25-year-old seeking his first European Tour victory, birdied eight holes and did not drop a shot in warm, dry conditions.

Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen, who along with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel are the two major winners in the field, began with a six-birdie 65.

Schwartzel carded a two-over 73 having started disastrously with bogeys on two and three and a triple bogey on seven.