23 March 2021: Joost Luiten started his day with a real gust, shooting three straight birdies from the 10th hole. And he never quite looked back as he marched through the Karen Country Club with a spotless 64 to set the tone for the Kenya Savannah Classic. Clement Sordet made three birdies in four holes just before making the turn in a matching 64 to share the lead. The Frenchman though suffered a bogey too on the eleventh hole for the only dark spot on his card. Shubhankar Sharma returned the best card among the Indians, with a 69 in the opening round. Gaganjeet Bhullar started with a sedate 70 while SSP Chawrasia suffered a 75.
Among the late starters, Justin Harding, winner last week showed no signs of easing up. He shot his way to the top of the leaderboard with a 64, a score he made in the third round last week on his way to victory in the Kenya Open. The last golfer to win back to back events on the European Tour was Justin Rose, who won the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Turkish Airlines Open.
“It’s quite different, to be fair. We are playing the same golf course so my strategy stays the same – front foot forward and see if we can keep doing what we were doing last week. I played pretty good again, solid,” said Harding.
“I played here in 2019 as well. Then I wasn’t able, with technology, to knock it on the par fours. It’s changed a little bit. Then I play back and leave myself a wedge in my hand, I don’t like the draw off the tee, especially with the wind blowing off the left. Then a couple of the others set up nicely. On 15 I learned my lesson Friday afternoon, I hit one in the bush and I’ve hit three wood ever since. It’s the type of golf course where you don’t have to birdie every hole, but if you execute your plans you have a hell of a lot of birdie chances – so play the tough holes properly.
“It’s always easy when you’re playing well. Don’t ask me where it came from. I’m playing solid and finally rolling a couple of putts in. Ultimately just keeping it in play and trying to keep the bogeys off the card – there was a silly one on 16 but was happy enough to make a birdie on 17.”
Luiten was an even 32 on either side, while Sordet got much of his work done with a 30 on the front nine. The bogey at the eleventh was a momentary pause for Sordet, who added three more birdies on the way home for his 64.
“Seven under is a really good score around here. No bogeys on the card is always a good thing and seven birdies. I had a couple more chances but I’m very happy with seven under and it’s a good position for the rest of the week,” said Luiten.
“It was pretty similar out there, I don’t know if the course has really changed. It’s still almost a little bit softer because they had a bit of rain overnight. A little bit of wind like you’d expect, as we had every day last week. So you know the course and you know what to do.
“It was good to come out with a good start, starting with three birdies – that really get6s your round going and I just kept plotting away from there.”
Mathiam Keyser, Marcus Armitage, Ross McGowan and Daniel Van Tonder shot six-under 65 to occupy the third spot.
Shubhankar took orbit right off the blocks, scoring a hattrick of birdies from the 10th hole. The 24-year old seemed to have rediscovered some of his touch on Tuesday, as he marched serenely through the course in Nairobi. The 24-year-old shot 14 straight pars, before his card took an untimely dent at his final hole, the ninth.
Bhullar took time to get some wind under his sails. After making ten straight pars, he scored two birdies in three holes to start his climb. Unfortunately, Bhullar too suffered some late damage, conceding a bogey on the 17th hole to settle for a 70.
Chawrasia started his day with a double bogey on the first and fell to three-over by the third. He never really recovered. The 42-year-old shot birdies at the 7th and 12th holes, but his rescue act was curtailed by three bogeys in the last six holes. Chawrasia finished the day with a 75 to his name and needs nothing short of a massive swing in his favour to make the cut.