South Africans Keith Horne and Trevor Fisher Jnr managed to upstage Rory McIlroy on Thursday in the opening round of the BMW SA Open proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower Golf Club – but only just.
The duo each carded six-under-par 66 to have a one-stroke edge over the world number two, with four other players on five-under-par 67 with McIlroy – South Africans Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe’ Kruger, and England’s Jordan L Smith.
“I hit my irons beautifully today and I putted well,” said Horne. “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 were 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,” he added.
“It was the best I’ve hit the ball in two years,” said Fisher. “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.”
For McIlroy, it was a question of putting on an exhibition for the thousands of fans who turned up early on a working – and school – day to watch him. “Teeing off early this morning and seeing the tee lined and each side of the fairways is always nice,” he said. “It’s nice to play in front of crowds like that and it’s great that they are so enthusiastic and 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.”
His round was somewhat spoiled by a pair of bogeys on four and five – he started on the 10th – after had got it to five-under through 12. But he pulled things back with birdies on six and eight. “I felt like I gave myself a lot of chances on our front nine – the back nine,” he said. “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 yeah, five-under-par is a good way to start to start this tournament.
“There were a couple of putts that I felt I had good putts and hit them on a good line. They were lacking a little bit of speed so I tried to get a little bit aggressive as the round went on. I holed a few nice ones but the ones that I missed I feel a little more speed was needed than anything else. But I’ve been working hard on my putting; I feel like from August last year to today it’s come on leaps and bounds and I hope it can only improve.”
Fisher was out in the morning while the buzz around McIlroy was at its height, and he thrived on it. “The pressure is nice, and the crowds are nice, so you sort of get into your bubble and zone,” he said. “It’s nice to have people out here watching – a lot more than usual – and it makes you focus a bit harder and I’m trying to use it to my advantage.”
Horne was working his way to the first tee when McIlroy finished, and that got his competive juices flowing. “The crowds were more like Sunday crowds than Thursday crowds,” he said, “but it’s great to have that kind of support.”
The pair will be up against a determined McIlroy. “I had some really good drives on the front nine, the first nine holes and so that was encouraging,” he said. “I made a couple of sloppy swings coming in but that’s something that hopefully I can work on and try to eradicate for tomorrow.”