A strong finish took Riekus Nortje to five-under-par on Thursday, earning the rookie a one-stroke lead during round one of the Sunshine Big Easy Tour’s ERPM tournament, presented by Stonehage.
“I’m very happy. I finished with three birdies, but other than that it was just solid golf. All round it was pretty good – the putts just dropped here and there. I just knew I had to get it as close as possible and get it in the hole,” he said.
The Fancourt Foundation graduate made an impressive eight birdies during the day, and was pleased to take a one-stroke lead over Welshman Stuart Clark ahead of the final round on Friday.
“I putted very well, and hit a lot of greens,” said Nortje. “That’s what you have to do on this course – it’s quite tight, so the more fairways you hit, the more greens you hit, the better.”
The 21-year-old has shown promise throughout his rookie year, making the cut at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, Telkom PGA Championship and the Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open. He has also played respectable golf on the Big Easy Tour, finishing tied 33rd at Houghton and 20th at Observatory.
After failing to pre-qualify for the Sunshine Tour’s Sun City Challenge earlier this week, Nortje headed for ERPM, where his straight-forward approach paid off over the 6 679-metre course. He turned in 34 and continued to shine from there, carding 33 over his second loop and reaching the clubhouse at five-under.
“This season has been a bit up-and-down,” he said. “I’ve missed a couple of pre-qualifiers – I’ve even been in three playoffs for a spot after finishing on the number. It’s been a little bit disappointing, but luckily I’ve made a couple of cuts. Today has been a lot better, because I feel more comfortable. That does quite a lot for my confidence.”
For the first time he will tee up in the final three-ball, and was optimistic about being in contention. “I’ve worked hard lately, although I’ve been struggling to make putts. Today was different and I’ll go into tomorrow with a lot of confidence and I’ll just stick to my gameplan,” he said.
Clarkf inished the day at four-under. He has struggled through the season, but hard work with his new coach – Ashley Roestoff – made him feel ready to contend. “It was not too bad today. It’s about time, because I’ve been working quite hard on my game and I think it’s paying off. I played the par threes well and just putted very well. The greens are very quick here, but my stroke is decent,” he said.
SCORES (RSA unless otherwise specified):
67 – Riekus Nortje
68 – Stuart Clark (WAL)
69 – Ignatius Mketekete (ZIM), Thabang Simon
70 – Roberto Lupini , Hertzog Landman
71 – Michael McGrady , Thabo Maseko
72 – Thomas Lovett , Jacques van Tonder , Lean Boezaart , Martin du Toit , PG van Zyl , Trevor Mahoney , Coenie Stoop , Beyers Smith