Van Rooyen rides two eagles to 63 and lead at Mexico Open

Feb 23, 2024 | Featured, South Africans abroad

From PGA Tour

Erik van Rooyen made two eagles on Thursday on his way to an eight-under 63 for a one-shot lead in the Mexico Open at Vidanta, a strong start in his bid to win a second PGA Tour title in Mexico in the last four months.

Van Rooyen hit three-iron to six feet for eagle on the par-five sixth hole at Vidanta Vallarta, and then pitched in on the par-five 12th for a second eagle. His lone mistake was a soft bogey when a straightforward chip ran seven feet by the hole at the 15th and he missed the par putt.

Sami Valimaki of Finland, one of the 10 players from the DP World Tour who earned PGA Tour cards this year, shot 64. He salvaged par when he hit a fairway metal into the hazard on the par-five sixth, followed by a drive to 12 feet for eagle on the reachable par-four seventh.

Cristobal Del Solar of Chile, who set the Korn Ferry Tour record two weeks ago with a 57 in the Bogota Championship, was among those at 65.

Van Rooyen was raised in South Africa, played college golf at Minnesota and can’t explain why he has such a good feel for golf in Mexico.

He won the World Wide Technology Championship last November at Cabo San Lucas, an emotional victory coming a week before his college teammate died of cancer. Four years ago, his first time in serious contention on a big stage was the World Golf Championship-Mexico Championship in Mexico City. He played in the final group and tied for third.

But coastal courses and the altitude of Mexico City are nothing alike.

“If I think about Chapultepec a few years ago, the WGC we had there was Kikuyu grass, bent grass greens, that’s what I grew up on. A little bit different here,” van Rooyen said. “I don’t know what it is — got to be the food, the people, the whole shebang.”

The timing doesn’t hurt. Van Rooyen was able to get into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of the Signature Events. The newly updated Aon Swing 5 will be populated after the Mexico Open, and the top five FedExCup points earners from here and the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches will earn spots at Bay Hill.

He cared more about how well he was swinging, particularly his irons. The evidence came on the sixth hole, when his approach hopped off the fringe and rolled to 6 feet.

“Greedily, I feel like I left a few out there,” van Rooyen said “Then again, a shot like six, the three-iron I had into that par five turned out great. I’m not planning to hit it to six feet to that flag. A give-and-take in golf, and really happy with the round.”

Del Solar was joined at 65 by David Lipsky, Henrik Norlander of Norway and MJ Daffue of South Africa. Thorbjørn Olesen of Denmark, who on Wednesday received a special invitation to play in the Masters, was in the group at 66.

Garrick Higgo opened wih a one-under-par 70 to be in a share of 48th.

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