Clarke's class rises above the rustiness
BEFORE the Africa Open began, Darren Clarke spoke of "getting back on the right track" after two years without a win and yesterday's round of 69 was a fine first step to fulfilling that particular New Year's resolution.
Clarke's four-under-par round on the rain-affected opening day in East London left him three shots behind early leader Brandon Pieters, but the Ulsterman was content with his good start.
"I was a bit rusty and hit some poor shots, but hit a few decent ones as well," he said afterwards.
"My distance control on the wedges was poor, but that was to be expected after I had a bit of a break. So all in all, I'm pretty pleased with the start."
Clarke, who recorded a pair of eagles, two birdies and two bogeys, added: "There were a few mistakes, but I putted quite nicely. I made two silly bogeys on 13 and 14, but apart from that it was all right.
"I holed a really nice putt on 18 after playing the perfect tee-shot and playing a bit like a dog after that."
Pieters was similarly inconsistent, but he managed to score better when given the opportunity as he carded eight birdies, an eagle and three bogeys to lead from a group of five players -- including Englishman Miles Tunnicliff, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet of France and South Africans Jaco Van Zyl and Branden Grace -- on six under.
Swede Fredrik Ohlsson is the other man in that group, although he still had one hole to play when bad light forced play to be stopped in the co-sanctioned European and Sunshine Tour event. More than 90 minutes were lost at the start of the day due to heavy mist, meaning several of the afternoon tee-offs will have to complete their rounds today.
Eight players were a further shot back on five-under after 68s. Defending champion Charl Schwartzel lies alongside Clarke on four-under.
British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen was a further shot behind on three-under after his 70, while Northern Ireland's Gareth Maybin shot 71.
Double Major winner Retief Goosen had a forgettable day with five bogeys and three birdies in a 75.
However, Pieters will be the man to catch in round two after the veteran local tour player put behind him an up-and-down front nine by stringing together five successive birdies on the back nine.
The 34-year-old said: "I just hit three bad tee shots, but other than that I putted really good and was happy with the rest of my game. Seven under, if it's leading by the end of today then that will be great, but if not, you don't win a tournament in the first round."
Africa Open, Live Sky Sports 1, 8.30am