Strong start for Duncan Stewart in Tshwane Open

Duncan Stewart lines up a putt at Pretoria Country Club in the first round of the Tshwane Open. Picture: Getty Images
Duncan Stewart lines up a putt at Pretoria Country Club in the first round of the Tshwane Open. Picture: Getty Images
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Duncan Stewart maintained his recent improved form to take pride of place on a successful morning for the Scottish contingent in the first round of the Tshwane Open.

The 32-year-old opened with a five-under-par 66 to sit just one shot off the clubhouse lead, held jointly by Frenchman Gregory Havret and South African Haydn Porteous.

Backing up Stewart on the leaderboard are Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren after they carded matching 68s at Pretoria Country Club.

Stewart missed the cut in his first five events on this season’s European Tour before picking up money in both the Perth Super 6 then last week’s Joburg Open.

Starting at the 10th today, he birdied the 12th, 14th, 17th and 18th to be out in 32 before opening up a two-shot lead following back-to-back gains at the fourth and fifth.

He missed a good birdie chance at the short eighth before dropping his only shot of the day at his closing hole, where a wayward blow caused the damage.

“It’s a tricky course and the rough is really thick, you’ve got to keep it on the fairway,” said Stewart afterwards. “A couple of times I didn’t hit it on the fairway, I got lucky and still had a shot to the green.

“The last hole was the result of a poor shot, but overall I gave myself quite a lot of chances and took a few of them as well.

“Everything was pretty good today. You had to keep it on the fairway, regardless of what club you were hitting off the tee.

“The short game was good and I holed out very well. I missed a few chances, but overall I putted very well and any time you shoot five-under you can’t complain.”

The Edinburgh-based Highlander is hoping the fact this week’s event is being played at altitude can work in his favour.

“I’m not one of the bigger hitters, so it feels as though I am hitting it quite long and sometimes that can be an advantage,” he added.

“I also really like this course. It’s different to what we sometimes play out on Tour. There’s not many drivers, which is good. You have to plot your way round.”

Ramsay, who also started at the 10th, cancelled out an early birdie with a double-bogey 7 at the 12th before picking up five shots in eight holes.

“I hit lots of fairways - my swing feels really good - and I putted well,” said the Aberdonian, who is also based in Edinburgh.

“(Daughter) Olivia is one today so I’m missing her a lot, but I’ve just got to keep my focus on the golf to take care of that.”

Warren made his sore by birdieing four of his last five holes, with only South African specialist David Drysdale feeling disappointed among the Scots in the morning wave.

He had to settle for a 72 as he dropped four shots in three holes after standing at three-under with six to play.

Scott Henry, one of the afternoon starters, was out in 32, four-under, after picking up shots at the 11th, 14th, 15th and 18th.

Havret, a former Scottish Open champion, made his score by storming to the turn in 29, six-under, while home hope Porteous was faultless in his opening salvo.

Another South African, Justin Walters, had Dunbar’s Stephen Neilson on his bag as he opened with a 66 to sit alongside Stewart, as well as Finn Mikko Korhonen, Autsralian Ben Eccles and England’s Toby Tree.