Connor Syme off to strong start in South African Open

Connor Syme was pleased with an opening five-under-par 66 in the South African Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg
Connor Syme was pleased with an opening five-under-par 66 in the South African Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg
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Young Scot Connor Syme opened the new decade on an encouraging note as American Johannes Veerman led the way in a low-scoring first round in the South African Open in Johannesburg.

Syme, who regained his seat back at the top table on the European Tour at the first attempt after being forced to return to the Challenge Tour last season, made an eagle and four birdies on the Bushwillow Course at Randpark Golf Club as he carded a five-under-par 66.

The 24-year-old, who opened the new campaign by finishing 11th in the Alfred Dunhill Championship then ninth in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last month, started with three straight birdies before finishing eagle-birdie.

The effort left him sitting joint-21st on a day when Veerman, a 27-year-old Qualifying School graduate, maintained his strong start to the campaign by firing a brilliant nine-under-par 62 to lead by a shot from Italian Nino Bertasio and South African JC Ritchie.

Also playing the Bushwillow Course, Veerman signed for nine birdies, including four to finish as he stormed home in 29. His day's work would would have seen him equal the course record had preferred lies not been in place.

"It was a good round of golf today," said the leader. "The course was set up to go low out there. The wind didn’t blow hard, the rough isn’t long and the greens were receptive, so there was a good number out there."

Veerman, who is following in the footsteps of world No 1 Brooks Koepka by playing on the European Tour, tied for seventh on his debut in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek at the start of December before adding two top-25 finishes in Mauritius and Australia.

"I’ve been practising really hard over the last six or seven months and I’ve been getting better," he added. "To come out and start 2020 playing like this gives me a lot of confidence."

Former Dunhill Links champion Branden Grace was the odd man out among the top nine players on the leaderboard, having made his strong start with a seven-under-par 64 on the Firethorn Course.

The 31-year-old, who is bidding to win his home Open for the first time, was out in two-over before picking up birdies at the 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th as he came home in 31.

Dane Rasmus Hojgaard, who won in Mauritius in just his second appearance on the circuit, caught the eye again with a 66, while defending champion Louis Oosthuizen is lurking ominously following a 65, which was matched in the same group by 18-year-old South African amateur Jayden Trey Scaper.

South Africa-based Doug McGuigan was next best among the Scots with a 68 on the Buckthorn, where David Drysdale carded a 69.

Daniel Young, in just his second European Tour appearance, made five birdies as he signed for a 69 on the Firethorn Course.

Marc Warren (70) also broke par but David Law, last year's Vic Open winner, had to setlle for a one-over 72 along Ewen Ferguson while Craig Howie had a 74.