Rory McIlroy got his 2017 campaign off to a flying start at the BMW SA Open as the World Number Two carded a five under par 67 to lie just one shot behind early pace-setters Keith Horne and Trevor Fisher Jnr at the Glendower Golf Club in the city of Ekurhuleni, South Africa.
In town as a favour to his great friend and tournament host Ernie Els, McIlroy did not disappoint the huge and expectant crowd which lined the fairways of Glendower to see one of golf’s biggest stars in action.
Playing with mostly new equipment in his bag, McIlroy made a solid start of four pars before flicking the switch and making four consecutive birdies to charge up the leaderboard. He made the turn in 32 and picked up another birdie before dropping two shots in a row on the back nine.
The 27 year old hit back in typical style though, almost holing in one to pick up an easy birdie on the par three sixth before he cancelled out his other dropped shot with another birdie on the eighth to sign for a 67.
Home favourites Horne and Fisher Jnr went one better to lead on six under, while McIlroy was joined by last year’s European Challenge Tour Number One Jordan L Smith as well as the South African trio of Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe Kruger.
Former Ryder Cup Captains Darren Clarke and Sir Nick Faldo produced some of their old magic to delight the home crowds with a pair of two under par 70s and stay very much in touch with the leaders.
Rory McIlroy: “That was good for the first competitive round of 2017. I felt like I gave myself a lot of chances on our front nine; the back nine. You know, that four-under could have been probably six or seven but look, it was a really good way to start. It was a bit scrappy in places around the last few holes but five-under-par is a good way to start to start this tournament. That was the first round with a lot of new equipment and it felt pretty good. Obviously I’ll be looking to get more comfortable with the clubs and when that happens I’d expect to be even more dialled in.
“The crowds were great. Teeing off at 07:10 this morning and seeing each side of the fairway packed with people is always nice. It’s nice to play in front of the crowds like that and it’s great that they are so enthusiastic and coming out and even getting up out of bed at that time of the morning. It’s a pleasure to play in front of them and hopefully they can continue to come out the next three days.”
Keith Horne: “I hit my irons beautifully today and I putted well. You know my putting hasn’t been great and today was nice. I made two relatively long putts today which for me is very good and the rest of them were just sort of four-footers, so it was a good day overall as far as my putting, my irons and my short-game is concerned. I really struggled with the driver today and I think if I’m going to be in contention on the weekend, I am going to have to sort out my game off the tee box. I hit four fairways today and I doubled my putt on 16 and 18 coming in – so it was a bit of a struggle but like I said, my irons and my putting kept me in today.”
Trevor Fisher Jnr: “It was a good round. I never really took too much time off over December. I didn’t have such a good year last year, I needed to do a bit of work. Yesterday, I found something with my coach and it looks like it worked. I hit some bad shots but I hit some good shots too, and the ball really went where I wanted it to go with the good shots. With my bad shots, I mistime it, but, in general I was quite happy with the way I hit it. I can still improve it a bit. I’ve just got to trust what I’m doing. It’s quite a change for me. Old habits die hard. I’ve just got to figure out a way to trust this and keep it going for the next three days.”
Sir Nick Faldo: “It’s enjoyable when you play well but it’s a test when you are constantly trying to make sure that everything is swinging towards the target. I had one bad swing that woke me up and made me push my way through some more shots and I am pleased with that. I know what I can do and how to do it but actually doing it is hard work. I have been working on my swing which is this little fade and I am basically testing myself to see if I can do it for the whole round.
“I’m in decent fettle. I was told to lose some weight because I had mild sleep apnoea so I have been on a low carb diet for about three months and have managed to get rid of 20 pounds which is great. You know I enjoy trying to stay fit so I am just trying to keep this old body moving!”
First round scores:
66 K Horne (RSA); T Fisher Jnr (RSA);
67 D Burmester (RSA); J Smith (Eng); R McIlroy (Nir); T Aiken (RSA); J Kruger (RSA);
68 D Fichardt (RSA); A Björk (Swe); M Foster (Eng); J Fahrbring (Swe); O Fisher (Eng);
69 D Brooks (Eng); J Walters (RSA); U Van Den Berg (RSA); R Johnson (Swe); C Nel (RSA); G Storm (Eng); S Tiley (Eng); J Stalter (Fra); S Norris (RSA); J Winther (Den); L Canter (Eng); B Rumford (Aus); S Soderberg (Swe); S Dyson (Eng);
70 N Fasth (Swe); J Morrison (Eng); N Schietekat (RSA); C Bezuidenhout (RSA); J Kamte (RSA); M Hollick (RSA); J Harding (RSA); P Uihlein (USA); G Coetzee (RSA); R Langasque (Fra); S Faldo (Eng); D Clarke (Nir); D Drysdale (Sco); T Moore (RSA); P Waring (Eng); J Hugo (RSA);
71 A Knappe (Ger); P Maddy (Eng); G Mulroy (RSA); C Hanson (Eng); D Frittelli (RSA); A Otaegui (Esp); D Van Der Walt (RSA); E Molinari (Ita); B Ritthammer (Ger); J Van Zyl (RSA); K McClatchie (am) (RSA);
72 S Engell Andersen (Ken); O Strydom (RSA); R Bland (Eng); T Van Der Walt (RSA); R Van Der Spuy (RSA); D Perrier (Fra); T Detry (Bel); E Van Rooyen (RSA); L Bjerregaard (Den); P Angles (Esp); M Siem (Ger); P Widegren (Swe); M Korhonen (Fin); A Georgiou (RSA); H Porteous (RSA); J Kingston (RSA); T Lewis (Eng); C Du Plessis (RSA); P Karmis (RSA); J Ahlers (RSA); R De Smidt (RSA); J Blaauw (RSA); R McGowan (Eng);
73 M Pavon (Fra); E Kofstad (Nor); T Ferreira (RSA); D Van Tonder (RSA); C Basson (RSA); R Gonzalez (Arg); J Agren (Swe); S Ferreira (RSA); M Muthiya (Zam); J Donaldson (Wal); R Echenique (Arg); C Swanepoel (RSA); V Groenewald (RSA); H Du Plessis (RSA); A Da Silva (Bra); J Kruyswijk (RSA); G King (Eng); J Rutherford (Eng); J Rebula (am) (RSA);
74 J Parry (Eng); B Easton (RSA); E Els (RSA); S Heisele (Ger); M Armitage (Eng); B Stone (RSA); D Petersen (RSA); D McGuigan (RSA); A Michael (RSA); J Van Der Wath (RSA); L Rowe (RSA); A McLardy (RSA); N Johansson (Swe); H Bruiners (RSA); T Bezuidenhout (am) (RSA); M Steyn (am) (RSA);
75 H Otto (RSA); D Greene (RSA); A Chesters (Eng); M Orrin (Eng); A Karlsson (Swe); L Ndwandwe (RSA); M Bremner (RSA); M Madsen (Den); J Strydom (RSA); C Pigem (Esp); M Nixon (Eng); M Cayeux (Zim); N Kimsey (Eng); D De Smidt (am) (RSA); P Geerts (am) (Ita);
76 S Walker (Eng); Z Lombard (RSA); M Mazibuko (RSA); O Bekker (RSA); A Haindl (RSA); S Vincent (Zim); E Pepperell (Eng);
77 D Horsey (Eng); C Bolling (USA); A Curlewis (RSA); T Dodds (Nam); L De Jager (RSA); D Naidoo (am) (RSA);
78 L Slattery (Eng); C Mowat (RSA); M Southgate (Eng); D Stewart (Sco); J Ritchie (RSA); J Van Eeden (RSA); A Sullivan (Eng);
79 N Bertasio (Ita); T Tree (Eng); C Blomstrand (Swe); S Henry (Sco); C Paisley (Eng); C Ross (am) (Sco);
80 R West (RSA); R Goosen (RSA);
81 S Bujela (RSA); J Dreyer (am) (RSA);