Pretoria professional Maritz Wessels led the local charge at the IGT Tour’s Race to Q-School #7 on Monday, shooting a superb six-under-par 66 for a share of the first-round lead with Damian Naicker, Coert Groenewald and Ireland’s Jeff Hopkins.
The leading quartet enjoyed a birdie binge at the scenic at Wingate Park Country Club on a low-scoring day where 29 players in the field of 85 competitors broke par.
Wessels reeled in six birdies in a flawless display and Hopkins notched four birdies and an eagle three at the final hole to seal his share of the lead.
Groenewald offset a double bogey at 10 with six birdies on the back nine, including a string of four from the 15th, while the sweet-swinging Naicker – already a two-time winner this season – underlined his growing credentials with a blemish-free round.
The quartet lead by one from Sunshine Tour campaigner CJ du Plessis, rookie Bryce McCabe and local amateur Estiaan Conradie, who claimed the first of his three IGT Tour titles this season at his home course in January.
Wessels, who competed on the Sunshine Tour for three seasons, found himself benched for five months after surgery for a bipartite patella at the start of the season.
He found the going tough when he started his comeback on the Big Easy Tour and rejoined the IGT Tour at the second event in the Race to Q-School series in October to get match-ready for the return to Qualifying School in March next year. The 29-year-old Els Club Copperleaf player sees today’s round as a firm indication that he is regaining his previous form.
‘I had two good rounds last week, but it fell apart a little in the final round,’ he said. ‘I felt that things were starting to come together. After I played really well in two rounds since last week’s event, I came into this week with a bit more confidence.
‘To be honest, I returned to competition too early after the surgery. I definitely wasn’t ready. Your mind might be in competitive mode, but it is frustrating when the body doesn’t cooperate. Anyway, I’m certainly in a better head space and physically I felt great out there.’
Naicker will be hunting a third win in Pretoria after he broke through at the Zwartkops Match Play in May and followed with victory at the second Race to Q-School at Waterkloof Golf Club last month.
‘Wingate Park is such a nice course and if you put the ball in play, there are birdies to be had,’ he said. ‘It’s not going to be an easy one to win, though. I like the way I can figure my way around his course, but I’m obviously not alone. If you look at the scoreboard, you see a lot of red numbers.’
By Lali Stander
First round scores
All competitors RSA unless otherwise indicated and amateurs indicated as AMA
66 – Maritz Wessels, Coert Groenewald, Damian Naicker, Jeff Hopkins (IRE)
68 – Estiaan Conradie AMA, CJ du Plessis, Bryce McCabe
69 – Michael Kok AMA, Russel Franz, Derek Scullard AMA, Terence Boardman, Matt Wollmann (ZIM)