American veteran Bruce Vaughn took a share of the lead at the SAA Open today despite only recently recovering from the latest in a series of six reconstructive operations on a knee injury.
Vaughn surprised himself as he prospered in the sweltering conditions on a Royal Durban Country Club course which provided some wind and lots of narrow fairways today.
And, while he shares the lead with South African Titch Moore, a shot clear of another South African in Tjaart van der Walt, Vaughn is just pleased he can make it through the round at all.
“My knee isn’t good at all,” he said after his round.
“The last time I played when I walked 18 holes was at Leopard Creek in the (Sunshine Tour’s) Tour Championship last February.
“I had six knee surgeries in less than two years and the last time they inset the bone, they told me everything looked good but this is my last chance – if everything doesn’t hold then you’re going to have a total bad knee.
“I went back to playing in September but had to play in little three day tournaments where I had to take a cart and that was it. I played a couple of pro-ams but nothing much else.”
The American was startled at having such a good day in the seaside sun, especially after he had told Sunshine Tour commissioner Johan Immelman that he had to “scrape the rust off my clubs to come here because they had not seen grass for a long time”.
“I am more shocked than anybody else being up there, because the only thing I have been able to do at home is putt. But I putted pretty well today so I guess it paid off,” he added.
“I hit some poor shots out there but I have played here long enough to know where to miss it and in the end it just came down to the putting.”
Vaughn knows that one round means little in the game and he expects to be playing through pain at some stage of the weekend.
“I just hope I can walk 18 holes every day, that is all I care about,” he said.
“It is the first time in two years that I have walked 18 holes that it hasn’t hurt so my main goal is to come here and get it healthy, walk and play some golf.
“It has been 11 months since I played in an actual tournament – I don’t count the ones where I had to take a golf cart but I didn’t have any choice. It was the only way I could walk from the first tee to the 18th green.”
Vaughn’s card does not look like that of a man who has a dodgy knee though, with a bogey on the first after two putting on the green before taking the shot back with a 20-foot putt for birdie on the second.
From there his putter was on fire, with a 10-footer on six, a 20-footer on seven to add to a chip-in on eight from 10 feet for birdie.
On the back nine he took four more birdies, including two monsters on 16 and 17 of 20 and 25 feet respectively.
Moore was the early clubhouse leader after a sensational early start but he will have to overcome his own bogey of leading tournaments in round one, but falling back as the tournament progresses.
“I am delighted with the way I played, my putting was great today. I hit a lot of good shots and managed to hole a few putts for a change,” Moore said about his 65,
“I have been playing nicely for a while now and so it is just a case of trying to keep four rounds together.
“You obviously need a few breaks in your round too. But I have been playing nicely and it would be nice to break through, but there still is a long way to go.”
The Port Elizabeth pro, who qualified through the Tour School to get his card this year, posted his lowest round of the tour, also 65 at the second oldest Open last year at Erinvale.
Van der Walt lost a place in the Open Championship last weekend in the International Final Qualifying tournament in Cape Town when he left a putt short after six holes of a sudden death play-off to hand Scotland’s Doug McGuigan the opportunity to go to St Andrews.
Behind them is Englishmen Malcolm McKenzie and Chris Williams, both on four under in a group which includes 2002 champion Tim Clark and Dunhill Championship winner Charl Schwartzel.