Schietekat shakes the stars

Neil Schietekat didn’t allow a suspension for lightening to upset his surge to the top in Thursday’s first round of the Joburg Open.

Unheralded Sunshine Tour regular Neil Schietekat didn’t allow a suspension for lightening to upset his surge to the top in Thursday’s first round of the Joburg Open.

The lanky South Africa opened with a nine-under-par 62 on the West Course at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club to edge one shot clear of early clubhouse leaders Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel, fast-improving South African young gun Jbe Kruger, and the English duo of Simon Khan and David Lynn who all opened with an 8-under 63.

Schietekat broke free of the group with a birdie at the 17th, but before he could play the 18th, the siren sounded to halt play for an hour and 42 minutes.

When play resumed, Schietekat calmly parred the 18th to retain his place at the top of the leaderboard in an event that with 210 players tackling two courses, the East and West, for the first two rounds, has one of the European Tour’s largest-ever fields

“Obviously because I played the easier of the two courses in the West, I knew that I had to get to at least five or six under to get into contention,” Schietekat said.

But it was his putting which carried him beyond this expectation.

“I hit the ball solid, but made a lot of putts. It’s all about putting, and I changed my putting grip towards the end of last year. I’m using the claw grip now and it’s really working nicely.”

It’s been some time since Schietekat has been able to enjoy the view from the top of a leaderboard.

“I haven’t been on top of the leaderboard for quite a while. I hit the ball really well all of last year, but my putting wasn’t good. But now the putting is good, and I can hopefully put everything together. That’s how you shoot nine under par – you hit the ball good and putt well.”

Behind him, Schwartzel, last week’s winner of the Africa Open in East London, also made an incredible start with a round of 63 which featured a first for him – seven consecutive birdies.

“I think seven is the most. I made six in a tournament somewhere. But I definitely think seven is the most I’ve ever made,” he said.

His birdie run and vague notion that a 59 might be on the cards was abruptly ended by a double bogey on the par-four 12th of the West Course, which was the only blemish on his card.

And with Irish Ryder Cup veteran Clarke and a determined Kruger, who is still riding the confidence of a third-place finish in last week’s Africa Open, immediately behind him, Schietekat will have his work cut out when he tackles the more difficult East Course in Friday’s second round.

“I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll have another good round,” he added.

The best rounds produced on the tougher 7,589-yard East course where the final two rounds will be played, were the six under 65s by the English duo of Barry Lane and Danny Willett.
Lane, 50 in June, is second to Sam Torrance in making the most appearances on the European circuit and his 649th event began with a bogey.
But it was to prove his only mistake. With wife Camilla again acting as his caddie, he birdied five of the next eight and made further gains on the 14th and 18th.