O’Hara and Kruger lead SA Open

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Steven O’Hara and Jbe Kruger, who shared the first round lead at the SA Open on Thursday, are both men with a mission.

Scot Steven O’Hara and South African Jbe Kruger, who shared the first round lead at the 101st South African Open on Thursday, are both men with a mission.

The duo each fired opening salvos of 7-under 65 at the new Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate near Johannesburg to go one stroke clear of two-time title winner Retief Goosen and fellow South Africans David Hewan, Merrick Bremner and Tyrone Mordt.

US PGA Tour qualifier Garth Mulroy, last week’s European Tour winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, is a further shot back, just two of the pace in a four way tie with fellow South Africans Jean Hugo and Shaun Norris and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar.

With Goosen coming out of a moderately successful Presidents Cup in Melbourne last week, and Mulroy in fine form, it all means that there are going to be at least two close pursuers putting pressure on the leaders moving into Friday.

And this in an event in which staying on top of the leaderboard, or at least close to the top spot, is going to be very important to Thursday’s two first round leaders.

O’Hara, a team-mate of Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell in the 2001 Walker Cup, needs to be up there because he desperately needs a fourth-place finish at worst this week to save his European Tour card.

In Kruger’s case, holding on to first place is something he needs to do if he is to shrug away last weeks disappointment when he led for 36 holes at the Dunhill only to lose momentum at the weekend, slip back and lose his chance

For the second week in a row he leads the first round and this time he is determined to learn from last week’s experience and not to let things implode again

He said: “I’m very happy with this start. But I had a similar start last week, so I know my work only begins now,.

With the Golden Goose amongst those chasing him, Kruger knows full well the value of staying in the moment if he wants to add his name to a trophy containing most of the biggest names in South African golf.

“I need to take it one shot at a time. I was 13 under par through two rounds last week. I think I might need two 65s, maybe even three this week. But I just need to take it one shot at a time.

“The South African Open is our biggest event. As a kid, I watched all the big name players winning it.”

O’Hara, who eagled the 576-yard eighth and had six birdies, said: “I hit a lot of great shots. I had it inside 10 feet pretty much every hole and felt I could have made more birdies.”

He is 134th on the Tour money list and has to climb to 118th to be exempt for next season.

As things stand this is not quite his last opportunity to get there,

A top-five finish would earn him a place in next week’s Hong Kong Open – and that, in turn, would give him one last crack at earning the prize money he needs to keep his tour card..

Strange as it may seem, Goosen also needs to win again – and yes, so does Ernie Els.

Both of South Africa’s two-time US Open winners have slipped outside the top 50 bubble for the first time in years, but on Thursday Goosen was pretty satisfied that his opening 66, which he admitted “could have been better” had put him on track to a third SA Open title.

Playing in the early morning, he enjoyed the best conditions and started with a birdie on his first hole, the 10th.

But then the severe slopes on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Serengeti greens caught him on the 12th, where he three-putted.

He made a good 20-foot putt to save par on the 13th, and then, with another birdie on 14, went seven under through the next nine holes, including a chip-in for eagle on the par four second.

But the last three holes saw him finish with two bogeys and a birdie. ”

He said “It was a disappointing finish. It could’ve been one of those rounds of nine or 10 under. But I’ll take six under at the SA Open. It’s where you want to be.”

David Frost opened with a four-under 68 alongside Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee and defending champion Ernie Els signed for a three-under 69.

I’d love to have been better,” said the smooth-swinging ‘Big Easy’, “but it’s been a good start. I feel the way I’m playing there is a low one out there.”

For England’s Nick Dougherty, though, it looks like becoming 31 missed cuts in his last 32 events. He had a 76 with double-bogey sevens on the third and 16th holes.

TOP 10 LEADERBOARD

65 – Steven O’Hara (SCO), Jbe’ Kruger
66 – Retief Goosen, David Hewan, Merrick Bremner, Tyrone Mordt
67 – Shaun Norris, Jean Hugo, Garth Mulroy, Felipe Aguilar (CHL)

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