Viljoen flies to 64, leads at ERPM

He’s a qualified pilot and a Sunshine Tour winner, and MJ Viljoen flew to an eight-under-par 64 on Wednesday to take the first-round lead of the Vodacom Championship unlocked at ERPM Golf Club.

He led by two strokes from Jake Redman, Daniel van Tonder, Neil Schietekat and Paul Boshoff, with Jacques Blaauw and Coert Groenewald another shot further back at five-under-par.

“I’ve been playing good golf for nearly two years now,” he mused after his round. “I think I was maybe too focused on hitting the ball well, so I needed to focus a bit more on my putting. It’s one thing to hit it close to the hole and another to make those putts. And that work has certainly paid off. I’m not making them all, but I am making more than I was making.”

He started his round on the 10th, and was immediately into red figures with a birdie on his opening hole. He picked up three more without making a drop on his way to the turn in 32. He promptly made three in a row from the turn, and then two more at five and seven, before he had the only blemish on his card with a bogey on the par-four eighth.

“It didn’t feel like a particularly fast start, to be honest,” said Viljoen, “but it certainly felt good when I started coming home. This course demands good driving and pitching, and I hit quite a few mid-irons nicely to set myself up for those birdies.

“The dropped shot came on the eighth when I rushed a putt about two foot past the hole. I had a bit of a bender coming back, and I just misread the grain. It went the opposite way to what I read, but it was nothing major in the context of the round.”

He is in search of his second Sunshine Tour title after winning the Sun Fish River Sun Challenge in 2017. His best performances since then were a runner-up spot behind George Coetzee in the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final in 2019 at Simola, and a share of seventh in the Alfred Dunhill Championship a month later at Leopard Creek behind Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal.

“When I won in 2017 it was unexpected. I’ve grown a lot since then as a golfer. It feels like I’m doing all the right things now on and off the golf course in order to win. I started this tournament with the right mindset of going out to win and not just compete. I’m motivated to get better and do something with the talent I have. Time doesn’t go backwards, so that’s my biggest motivation at the moment,” he told the Sunshine Tour.

The tournament continues on Thursday and concludes on Friday.

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