In-form Clarke outdone by local lad

Darren Clarke’s lowest European Tour round since 1999 was still not quite enough to give him the first round lead in the Joburg Open today.

Darren Clarke’s lowest European Tour round since 1999 was still not quite enough to give him the first round lead in the Joburg Open today.

The 40-year-old Ulsterman shot an eight-under-par 63 over the easier West Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, but little-known South African Neil Schietekat then went one better.

Ranked only 1,074th in the world, Schietekat turned his form in the event on its head. He missed the halfway cut the last two years after opening with scores of 79 and 77.

This time the 25-year-old grabbed nine birdies and kept a bogey off his card. But he faces the far more demanding East lay-out tomorrow – and the two rounds after that assuming he makes the cut.

“It’s all about putting. I changed my grip last month and it’s started to pay off now,” said Schietekat on the Sunshine Tour website.

The last time Clarke shot lower was his Tour record-equalling 60 in the 1999 European Open, much closer to home at The K Club near Dublin.

“I hit it close a lot of times and the only putt I really holed was on 17 from about 20 feet,” he said.

On a day of low scoring – placing was allowed on the fairways because of heavy recent rain, with another storm causing a hold-up of 102 minutes in the afternoon – there were four other 63s.

They came from England’s Simon Khan, winner of the Tour qualifying school in November, and David Lynn and South African pair Charl Schwartzel and Jbe Kruger.

Clarke’s playing partner Schwartzel is in a rich vein of form. Last Sunday he won the Africa Open and last month he was runner-up to Pablo Martin at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

The “Race to Dubai” money list leader produced seven birdies in a row from the fifth to be eight under, but any thoughts of a 59 disappeared when he had four putts to double-bogey the next.

Scot Alastair Forsyth returned a 64, while the best rounds on the 7,589-yard East were the six under 65s by English duo Barry Lane and Danny Willett.

Lane, 50 in June, is second to Sam Torrance in making the most appearances on the circuits 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.

More in this section

Ireland's Top 10 Hidden Gems

Ten of the best golf courses in Ireland that too few people know about.

Read Here
Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox