Two of the stars of the upcoming summer of golf are on top of the leaderboard through the opening round of DP World Tour and Asian Tour events in South Africa and Egypt.
Kiwi Ryan Fox and Queenslander Scott Hend are headed to Australia in the coming weeks and on current form will be confident of adding to their history of wins on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
Already a two-time winner on the DP World Tour this year, Fox posted a Round 1 score of eight-under 64 to lead the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in South Africa as Hend shot 62 at the International Series Egypt to lead the Asian Tour by one.
Hend, who has battled back from prostate cancer, looked like his old self in Round 1, making nine birdies and one bogey at Madinaty Golf Club in the Asian Tour’s first visit to Egypt.
Hend has fully recovered from his cancer scare but says the biggest obstacle he now faces is a lack of confidence.
“I am a 10-time winner on the Asian Tour, I am a 15-time winner around the world, I am an Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, I am second on the Asian Tour Career Money List, I have been playing golf since I was 14 years old, I know how to play, I have just got to keep telling myself that,” said Hend, who will next week tee it up in the Queensland PGA Championship at Nudgee Golf Club.
The 49-year-old missed cut after cut in the early part of the year but has been playing better of late, most noticeably in last week’s International Series Morocco where he was tied for third going into the final round before shooting 78 to finish equal 14th.
“It’s just a process, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to get back to where I was,” said Hend, whose last win on the Asian Tour came in the 2019 Maybank Championship.
“Mentally I have suffered a lot from what I have been through, so that’s where I have been really struggling confidence-wise.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent. I tried to play, and I rode on what confidence I did have but I wasn’t 100 per cent so it was a Catch 22.”
He could easily have finished with a lower score today but missed three putts from inside four feet on the outward half and one from a similar length on the way back.
Hend has the Australian flag flying high through the opening round but he is not the only Aussie prominent on the leaderboard.
Travis Smyth, Brett Rumford and Sam Brazel are all in a share of sixth following rounds of five-under 65, all three posting six birdies and a lone bogey to begin their tournament.
A double bogey at the par-5 13th soured Todd Sinnott’s two-under 68 while Cory Crawford is tied for 55th after an even-par 70.
Harbouring hopes of knocking off Rory McIlroy as the DP World Tour Order of Merit winner, Fox played Sun City’s back nine in seven-under to lead European Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald by one.
If Fox can become the first male player from New Zealand to win three times on the DP World Tour in a single season, he will overtake leader McIlroy ahead of the season finale in Dubai next week.
And he has built the perfect platform from which to launch his attack on McIlroy.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better start,” said Fox.
“I figure if you can get to double digits under par around here for the most part you’re going to be pretty close come Sunday.
“To be most of the way there after the first round is pretty nice.
“This is a hard golf course to keep your foot on the gas. It’s going to come back and bite you at some point.”
Fox took his own chunk out of the golf course at the par-5 14th.
He smashed driver 326 metres and then hit 7-iron from 180 metres inside five feet, duly converting for eagle.
“The 14th is probably the toughest tee-shot, I just teed it down, hit a little fade,” Fox explained.
“I had a good number to the front of the green with a 7-iron, adjusted as we had 180 metres downwind and I can usually get 7-iron there.
“I just thought, ‘if I smash seven and get to the front, great’, and I got a little further than that.
“Standing on that tee, you would probably take five for the most part and to make three certainly helps.”
Four behind Fox in a share of fourth is in-form West Australian Min Woo Lee (68) while Lucas Herbert helped his chances of advancing to next week’s DP World Tour Championship with a round of three-under 69 to sit in a tie for seventh.
Brendan Jones’s one-under 69 is the best of the Aussies in a share of 16th at the Visa Taiheiyo Masters in Japan, Jason Day posting the same score to lead the Aussie charge at the Cadence Bank Houston Open on the PGA TOUR.