Casey Jarvis might not be in front, but seven birdies on Thursday in the first round of the Investec South African Open Championship will certainly make all the other players in the field at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate keep a close eye on him.
He was paired with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, and he outscored his more illustrious companion 66 to level-par 72 after the pair began early in the day on the 10th tee, bundled up against the cool conditions.
“It was a good morning,” he said. “It was an early wake-up call this morning, so it was good to go out there and post a good number. I played really nicely and I’m happy with where my game’s at.”
He was one stroke behind the leader, Joakim Lagergren of Sweden, who opened with a superb bogey-free seven-under-par 65. In a three-way share of third, one stroke behind Jarvis, were former champion Andy Sullivan of England and the South African duo of Louis de Jager and Jovan Rebula.
Jarvis birdied his first hole, and picked up another shot on the 13th, before making his only birdie on the day on the par-four 16th. That was to be the sum of his drops for the day, as he made three birdies in a row around the turn from the 17th, and picked up two more shots on the fifth and sixth.
“My rhythm and tempo were really good this morning,” said Jarvis. “Blair Atholl is a long course, so I tried to step on a few drives out there, but I managed to hit the ball really nicely.”
With five par-threes to match the five par-fives on the longest course on the DP World Tour, Jarvis felt they held the key to a good score: “The par-threes are long here, so I think if you play the par-threes well, you’re going to score well, and I did that today,” he said.
“There are a lot of long-irons in to the par-fours, and I hit some good ones in, and just managed my game pretty well. It’s a mentally challenging test as well. I don’t hit the ball as far as some of the other guys out here, and it’s a long walk, so you’ve just got to stay patient.”
Two strokes behind Jarvis on four-under-par 68 was a group of 10 players, including South Africans Christiaan Bezuidenhout, the 2020 champion, Combrinck Smit, JC Ritchie, Hennie du Plessis and Heinrich Bruiners.
On three-under, in a group of 11 players in a share of 16th, were Deon Germishuys, Louis Albertse and Jacques P de Villiers.
Defending champion Thristen Lawrence and last week’s Joburg Open champion dean Burmester were on two-under after the first round, both making three bogeys in rounds that just couldn’t quite ignite. Also on two-under were Sean Bradley, Jayden Schaper, Darren Fichardt, Jaco Ahlers and Lyle Rowe. They were all in a share of 27th.
For Jarvis, even though there is a long way to go, his history of converting sparking starts into good finishes should make him confident. He was having none of putting the cart before the horse, though: “Having won the Freddie Tait Cup as an amateur and now playing well as a professional means a lot,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to get it done as a professional, but right now, I’m just taking one day at a time.”
The first day was a very good start.