Scott Henry overcomes bad back to sit in Tshwane Open top 10

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Despite struggling with a back injury, Scott Henry joined Jamie McLeary and Andrew McArthur in putting three Saltires in the top 10 after the opening round of the Tshwane Open in Pretoria.

On a day when home player Justin Harding roared home in 30 to set the pace with a seven-under-par 63, the tartan trio all carded 68s to sit in a share of sixth position.

Henry’s effort, which contained five birdies, was a bonus for the 28-year-old Clydebank man after he’d headed out not knowing what to expect.

“I hurt my back last week when I was home, probably because I was trying to swing it properly in freezing conditions,” said Henry. “As a result, I’ve been stuggling to swing this week.

“I didn’t play very well today but just tried my best to be smart and I’m happy to shoot wat now seems like a decent score.”

After his round, the former Scottish Stroke-Play champion was given some anti-inflammatory pills by the Tour phsyios and sent back to his hotel to rest.

“It’s strange feeling not 100% physically fit, especially for me,” added Henry. “It happened just before I left to come out here. I was playing at Mar Hall and I just felt cold all day.

“I was never a doubt for competing, though, as I thought it would pass quicker, plus I’ve got to make the most of the tournaments I get into.”

Two late bogeys took a “bit of shine” off McLeary’s round, which was illuminated by an eagle-3 at the ninth. “The biggest slice of luck I’ve ever had,” he said of that, having seen a pulled approach his both a cart then a tree before ending up 18 feet from the hole.

The 34-year-old has made just one cut in four starts since regaining his European Tour card through finishing 15th on the Challenge Tour monet-list last season.

“I played really good, only missing two greens, and If I play like that for rest of event, I’ll be very happy,” added McLeary, who is attached to Marriott Dalmahoy.

“I’ve been putting really poorly, so it’s nice to finally putt average for once. I had a two or three-hour chat with my coach, Ian Muir, about my practice habits with regards to putting and it’s made a huge difference already. Hopefully it continues.

“My driving has been really good since the start of 2016. I just need my irons to be better and to putt like I did today or even better, if possible.”

Making only his second start of the season - he missed the cut by two shots in Qatar a fortnight ago - McArthur was the first of the Scots to post 68 afer a round that contained five birdies.

David Law, the last man into the field, battled back from being two-over after six to finish on level-par, leaving the Aberdonian sitting in joint-23rd.

He’s a shot ahead of Bradley Neil after the Blairgowrie 20-year-old, who received an invitation for the event, birdied his last hole, the par-5 ninth.

David Drysdale, the other Scot in the field, suffered a rare off day in South Africa, where he’s done so well in the past. Four dropped shots in four holes from the tenth contibuted to him having to settle for a five-over 75 to sit joint-124th.

Harding made the most of a “jammy” moment to claim a one-shot lead as home players dominated the opening round.

Harding birdied five of his last eight holes to lead from two compatriots, Anthony Michael and Theunis Spangenberg, on six and five under respectively.

A total of 10 South African players ended the day inside the top 16, with Jaco van Zyl on four under and defending champion George Coetzee part of an 11-strong group on two under.

World No 509 Harding, who chipped in on the 18th to complete a back nine of 30, has missed the cut in his last three events and said: “I’m super chuffed. I have been struggling the last couple of events so it’s a confidence boost.

“I felt like I hit it quite nicely although I was quite jammy on the last - I chipped in from a position that otherwise was not very good. So that was a great way to finish the day.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been up there in one of these events so it’s a good feeling. I’m just going to see if I can maybe keep it going.

“I feel as though I’m hitting it nice enough, putting it in the fairway with a driver at least, which is good. I missed a couple of irons off the tee, but that happens.”

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel bogeyed two of his last five holes to card a one-over-par 71 in his first appearance since finishing ninth in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in early December.