O’Hara masterclass gives him share of lead in SA Open

NEEDING at least a top-four finish to hang on to his European Tour card, Steven O’Hara produced a masterclass from tee to green to earn a share of the lead after the opening round of the South African Open at Ekurhuleni, near Johannesburg.

The 31-year-old Motherwell man, who is lying 134th on the European Tour money-list and needs to climb into the top 115 to avoid a trip back to the Qualifying School next month, shot a superb seven-under-par 65 on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Serengeti course. Out in the third group of the day, he raced to the turn in four-under 32, which included an eagle 3 at the eighth, then followed back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th with one more at the last.

“I hit a lot of great shots today,” said O’Hara, whose effort was matched by South African Jbe Kruger, another of the morning starters.

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“I was inside ten feet at pretty much every hole and missed a few chances as well as taking some of them. I was four-under for the front nine and felt I could have birdied every single hole.”

This is likely to be the Scot’s last chance to avoid a trip to the dreaded Q-School, though a top five would get him into next week’s Hong Kong Open.

“I was a bit tired at first after having to get up so early, but it was good to take advantage of the greens being good,” he added.

“They are very slopey but there were no spike marks when I was out and I also seemed to have pretty straightforward putts, which was pleasing.”

Back at the start of the year, O’Hara finished fourth in the Africa Open and now he’s determined to match or even better that this weekend,

“Before the Africa Open, my record in South Africa wasn’t very good I but had a good last round in East London,” said the former Scottish Amateur champion. “I’ve had a good first round here and now I need to try and put four rounds together as I need a good finish this week.”

David Drysdale, who should cement his place in the top 115 by making the cut, is lying in a tie for 11th after a 68 that also contained six birdies, while George Murray, second in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, opened with a 69.

The latter was matched by both the Saltman brothers, Elliot and Lloyd, with Alastair Forsyth, who qualified for the event by holing a bunker shot in a play-off, and Peter Whiteford both signing for 70s.

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Amateur Michael Stewart had a 74 – five shots more than playing partner Ernie Els.