MALELANE, Mpumalanga (13 December 2012) – Gregory Bourdy and Charl Schwartzel have been here before. Bourdy leads the Alfred Dunhill Championship after day one, and Schwartzel is part of a group of players chasing him one stroke back. And this being Leopard Creek, Bourdy knows that once again he has a fight on his hands.
The Frenchman set the pace with his opening six-under-par 66 on Thursday. It was enough to pull him clear of a pack of players behind him, including Louis de Jager, Oliver Bekker, Steve Webster, Richard Bland, Darren Fichardt, and Schwartzel.
George Coetzee threatened to have a say and was just one off the lead after eight holes. But then he bogeyed nine and 10 and finished at one under.
And Louis Oosthuizen struggled to get going, opening with a one-over 73 that included an eight on the par-four third.
The last time Bourdy hit the front of a tournament in South Africa he went on to become the first Frenchman to win the Telkom PGA Championship by a massive six strokes. It allowed him to make a serious run at the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit title. But Schwartzel stepped in and won the last tournament of the season to retain his Order of Merit crown.
Both players will be ready for a similar battle at Leopard Creek this week.
“This isn’t an easy course so I’m very happy to have played well here,” Bourdy said of his start. “I played very solid, consistent golf. I had a lot of birdie opportunities, but to make six is good enough for me.”
It was his iron play that stood out, and the pureness of it allowed him to attack from the very first hole, which he birdied.
“I felt great with my irons today, so early on in my round I made birdies very quickly. But I’ve felt good about my game for a few weeks now and I’ve been waiting for a better performance. Now I have that opportunity this week.”
Bourdy is certainly hoping to draw on his memories of winning in South Africa in 2006. “I love South Africa. I’ve played a lot of tournaments here, and the Telkom PGA Championship win was key in my career. I had just lost my European Tour card and I came here and played well. And this tournament is my favourite on the Sunshine Tour.”
Of course, he remembers well the last time he and Schwartzel battled for a title.
Schwartzel drew on all of his good memories of this course as he worked his way into contention with a 67 that was highlighted by a bunker shot he holed for birdie on the par-three 12th.
And Leopard Creek provided the inspiration he needed to work through the fatigue of his recent travels.
“This course has got some sort of relaxing feel about it. I’m run down and I’m not striking it as well as I’d like, but I’ve been around for a while so can manoeuvre it a bit by now,” he said.
For all the time he’s spent in South Africa, Bourdy’s Afrikaans is as good as his braai skills. And for Schwartzel, escargots belong in the garden and not on a plate.
But both players can certainly spell WIN.