Benjamin Hebert birdied the final hole late in the day to steal the first round lead at the Magical Kenya Open presented by Johnnie Walker, the Frenchman carding a seven under par round of 64 to take a one-stroke advantage ahead of a packed leaderboard at Karen Country Club.
The 34-year-old is a six-time winner on the Challenge Tour but has yet to claim a maiden European Tour title despite a number of agonisingly close calls, resulting in three runner up finishes during the 2019 Race to Dubai.
Hebert, who has twice played at Karen Country Club during his time on the Challenge Tour, got off to a shaky start in Nairobi as he bogeyed the first – but six birdies, including at the 18th and an eagle at the par five 12th earned him a narrow lead.
Seven players shared second place after the opening round on six under par, including Englishman Sam Horsfield – a two-time winner in the 2020 campaign who is making his first start of the 2021 Race to Dubai after returning from a back injury.
Benjamin Hebert: “It was a fantastic day. I played very solid all day long. It’s been a long time since it has been like this. We managed the distance control, because it’s very hard here with the wind and altitude. We weren’t too aggressive and a holed some good putts also. It was a good day.
“In the morning you have to take out ten percent and in the afternoon it’s closer to 15 – that’s what we played. And I think we did pretty well.
“Twelve is a short par five, so you always expect to have at least a birdie. I hit three wood then seven iron, a little bit long and holed a 15-foot putt. It was good but I played well all day, so I’m very happy.
“My strategy worked well. I didn’t play too aggressive or hit many drivers. In the morning it’ll be a little bit wetter, so maybe we can be more aggressive with the pins, we’ll see tomorrow.”
Sam Horsfield: “I tore a disc in my back in Cyprus at the end of last year. Then I was just getting treatment and I didn’t feel like I was ready for the Middle East – I picked up a club around the time of the Saudi event. I had a good group today and it was a lot of fun and it’s great to be back competing.
“It took me a while to get into the round even though I was three under through the first four. I still felt a little different to playing golf at home. The back nine was a little questionable but then I hit a good shot on the front nine and it sort of got me into the flow of the round again.”
Connor Syme: “Nine birdies – it’s been a while since I’ve had that in a round. I played quite well last week in Qatar, although my scores probably didn’t show that, especially over the weekend.
“I liked this course a couple of years ago. Although my strength is my driving you actually don’t hit many drivers around here. If you get it in play you can make a few birdiBernd Ritthammeres. I played lovely on the front nine, a few silly mistakes unfortunately with a couple of bogeys, but nice to bounce back with a couple towards the end which made up for it.”
Bernd Ritthammer: “I know the place quite well, I’ve been here a few times. I got here early on Monday, I did my homework. I know how the altitude plays. I’m quite pleased. I didn’t make many mistakes, except for the last hole.
“I’m working in metres, so we are 17/1800 metres, which I think is around ten percent, so the ball is going ten percent more. If you play in the morning it might be seven-eight percent more carry, in the afternoon it might be 12 or 13 percent more. It also depends on how high you hit it, so an eight iron, if you hit it low doesn’t go much further than back home. If you hit it high it’s not coming down any more. There’s a lot you need to take into account.”