SOUTH African professional Jean Hugo turned back the hands of time, 18 years after his only Zimbabwe Open victory, to storm into a one-shot lead, but it was local favourite Ryan Cairns who stole the show in the first round of the 2017 edition of the Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event at Royal Harare Golf Club yesterday.BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 41-year-old from Centurion, South Africa, who has won 17 times on the Sunshine Tour, which includes the 1999 Zimbabwe Open title at Chapman Golf Club, conquered the challenging layout to post a seven-under-par 65 to take the outright lead.
Hugo’s masterclass was, however, almost matched by home favourite, Cairns, who ignited Zimbabwe’s hopes of a first home winner since the tournament’s return in 2010 after a firing a dazzling six-under-par 66.
Starting his campaign on the 10th hole and with his father Terry on his bag, Cairns, who is chasing his second win on the Sunshine Tour, made two birdies and his only bogey of the round on his front nine before managing a further five birdies on the back.
The 33-year-old player, who represents Royal Harare Golf Club, is aiming to become the first Zimbabwean to win the Zimbabwe Open since Mark McNulty’s victory back in 2000.
Since the Zimbabwe Open’s return on the Sunshine Tour schedule in 2010 after an eight-year hiatus, South African professionals have dominated the event maintaining a perfect record.
Kimberly-born Jbe’ Kruger won the Zimbabwe Open twice, in 2010 and in 2014, while his compatriots Theunis Spangenberg, Chris Swanepoel and Jake Roos triumphed in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Mutare-born Dean Burmester, who competes under the South African flag, won the 2015 edition of the tournament before Lyle Rowe became the sixth South African golfer in as many years to win the tournament last year.
However, after Cairns’ brilliant start on his home course yesterday, hopes are high a local will finally win the event this time around.
Cairns will, however, be well aware of the big task ahead, particularly with a chasing group of five players just behind him, which includes the highest-ranked player in the field, Trevor Fisher Jnr, CJ du Plessis, Luke Jerling, Oliver Bekker, Francois Coetzee and Keenan Davidse, who all carded identical scores of five-under-par 67.
While the South African golfers took the early initiative at the top of the leaderboard, it was a tough day for Zimbabwe on the course, with just three players managing to card under-par scores.
Trainos “Sergio” Muradzikwa made a good start after carding a three-under-par 60 to finish in a tie for 18th, while Tongo “TC” Charamba is also within striking distance of the lead after carding a two-under-par 70.
Chapman Golf Club professional Clive Nguru put up a solid performance after carding a level-par round of 72, while the duo of Marc Cayeux and Mark Williams initially started brightly before finishing on one-over-par 73.
Zimbabwe Professional Golfers’ Association president Gary Thompson and Kayyam Rauf Mandhu will also have a lot of work to do to catch up with the leaders after carding two-over-par rounds of 74.