Mark Williams arrived at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club seeking redemption in this week’s Joburg Open and the big Zimbabwean made short work of the opening round to claim an early share of the clubhouse lead.
The 34-year-old chipped in for a double bogey on his way to a six-under-par 65 at the West Course.
He shared the score with, among others, Sweden’s Michael Jonzon, who navigated the par-72 East Course in 65 strokes, but the pair were edged out of the top spot by Justin Walters.
The South African made the most of the benign afternoon conditions to close with a seven-under 65 at the East for a one stroke lead.
A relieved Williams didn’t event attempt to hide this delight after the round.
“I don’t know what it is about this tournament,” he sighed. “I failed to qualify for the first five Joburg Opens and finally made the field in 2012 when I was exempt, but I am yet to make the cut.
“I’ve been a bit fortunate to be up there in a couple of events lately, so I’m starting to get a bit more comfortable in the bigger events.
“I guess we will have to wait and see if I can finally break the curse tomorrow.”
Williams came into the Joburg Open on the back of a tie for 10th in the BMW SA Open and that seems to have done the trick.
He started par-eagle-birdie and reeled in two more gains at five and six to get to five under before the double bogey at the par four seventh put the brakes on hot run.
“It was really nice to get out there and I had a hell of a start,” said Williams.
“I didn’t really like the tee shot at seven. The wind was off the left and I ended up hitting it out of bounds. I actually chipped in for a double, so it was a bit of a roller-coaster start.
“I just said to my caddie that we’ve got to make a couple pars and finish strong, and that’s exactly what happened. I made seven pars in a row and then finished with three birdies, so that made all the difference.”
Williams said he has been working keeping his emotions in check when he hits a rough patch.
“I tend to play on my emotions quite a lot, so it’s always a bit of a roller-coaster,” he said.
“I think fortunately today – chipping in for the double – it felt like a bonus and it could have been a lot worse. But one thing I’ve really worked hard on is just staying patient and just trying to get through as much as I can do.”
Williams turned pro in 2003 and claimed a career high 41st place finish on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit last year. A strong performance this week will not only pad his banking account, but give his Chase to Investec Cup ranking a solid boost.
And, if he completely destroys the ‘curse’ and finishes in the top three, he could secure one of three coveted spots to the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon in the second week July.
“It puts some extra pressure on me to have to play the East Course to make the cut,” he said.
“The breeze was up a bit, swirling around, but the greens were in superb condition,” he said.
“I’ve always struggled around the West. I think purely because you know that the scores are going to be lower there, so you go out pushing a bit. Today, you know the start just helped me, I kind of could relax a bit and after the good start I didn’t have to push anymore.
“The way I’m driving the ball, the East should be a good test for me, so I’m looking forward to it.”