Cape Town - Brandon Stone put a tough year behind him as he fired a six-under-par 66 on Thursday to be in a five-way share of the first-round lead of the Mauritius Open at Heritage Golf Club.
His seven birdies and a bogey saw him share the lead with teenager Rasmus Hojgaard from Denmark, the French duo of Benjamin Hebert and Romain Langasque, and Scotland's Grant Forrest in a tournament sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour.
"2019 was a tough year," said Stone. "I don't think I was the only one that really struggled. I think on the European Tour, you've got 110 guys that keep their cards and I think 109 of them are always going to be disappointed. I had a few results towards the end of the year that really got some confidence back in the game."
Stone turned in four-under-par 32 on his way to what looked as if it might be a very low score, but a bogey on the 10th slowed his progress until the 14th and 15th where he made two successive birdies. Then, after being in trouble off the tee on the par-five 18th - he nearly hit his wife who was standing well out of danger on the left of the fairway - he recovered well for a final birdie to grab his share of the lead.
Hojgaard was flawless through his opening round, and took advantage of an early start which saw the wind less of an influence than later in the day. "Conditions are very good," he said. "It's a course where if you are playing well you can see a lot of chances. I managed to take them today."
The morning field certainly got the better of conditions, and Hebert was one of those who took advantage. "The greens were very firm during the practice round and they were much softer this morning, so it was easier," he said. "During the practice round it was very hard to reach pin high because the bounce was huge on the green. It was a little bit windy on the last nine, a little bit tougher, but I did well so I am very happy."
For Stone, finishing his competitive year in Mauritius is something he's relishing. "I think we've had the best end of the year with these two events (Alfred Dunhill Championship and AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open)," he said. "I sat for a couple of hours poolside yesterday, weighing up the options of what we are going to do for dinner. There were more than enough ideas, and then I went to bed nice and early. Woke up to a beautiful island summer's morning, took a walk on the beach with the wife and after that, I had to come and do a little bit of work and come and shoot a 66."
He's got work to do if he wants to break free of his pursuers, though. In addition to the four with whom he shares the lead, there are none players just one shot back, including South Africans Keith Horne, Zander Lombard, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Jaco Ahlers.
66 - Rasmus Hojgaard 66, Benjamin Hebert 66, Romain Langasque 66, Brandon Stone 66, Grant Forrest 66
67 - Keith Horne 67, Antoine Rozner 67, Zander Lombard 67, Christiaan Bezuidenhout 67, Thomas Detry 67, Matthieu Pavon 67, Jaco Ahlers 67, Ricardo Santos 67, Sihwan Kim 67
68 - Connor Syme 68, Soren Kjeldsen 68, David Law 68, Justin Harding 68, Ockie Strydom 68, Darren Fichardt 68, Calum Hill 68
69 - Hennie du Plessis 69, Abhijit Chadha 69, Renato Paratore 69, Oliver Bekker 69, Thriston Lawrence 69, Jack Singh Brar 69, JJ Senekal 69, Nicolas Colsaerts 69, Marcel Siem 69, Haydn Porteous 69, Jean-Paul Strydom 69, Estiaan Conradie 69, Jack Senior 69
70 - Peter Karmis 70, Keenan Davidse 70, Jyoti Randhawa 70, John Catlin 70, Johannes Veerman 70, Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez 70, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano 70, Hennie Otto 70, Gregory Havret 70, Lee Slattery 70, Garrick Higgo 70, Adrien Saddier 70, Liu Yanwei 70, Alex Haindl 70, Rhys Enoch 70, Travis Smyth 70, Shinichi Mizuno 70, Neil Schietekat 70, Raphael Jacquelin 70, Daniel van Tonder 70, Richard Bland 70, JC Ritchie 70, Jake Higginbottom 70, Gerrit Foster 70
71 - Julien Guerrier 71, Kyle Barker 71, Mardan Mamat 71, Christiaan Basson 71, George Coetzee 71, Ashun Wu 71, Richard T Lee 71, Ashley Chesters 71, Viraj Madappa 71, Jake Roos 71, Casey O'Toole 71, David Drysdale 71, Paul Lawrie 71, Lorenzo Gagli 71, Joel Sjoholm 71, Jarin Todd 71, Dylan Naidoo 71, Suttijet Kooratanapisan 71, Merrick Bremner 71
72 - Ben Geyer 72, Thomas Linard 72, David Howell 72, Khalin Joshi 72, Carlos Pigem 72, Rahil Gangjee 72, Seungjae Maeng 72, Chikkarangappa S 72, Bryce Easton 72, Jack Harrison 72, Teemu Putkonen 72, Nicholas Latimer 72, Adrian Meronk 72, Adilson Da Silva 72, Matthew Jordan 72, Rourke van der Spuy 72, Oliver Farr 72, Aman Raj 72, Thomas Aiken 72, Gaganjeet Bhullar 72, Taehee Lee 72, Trevor Fisher Jnr 72, Robin Roussel 72, S.S.P Chawrasia 72, Hongtaek Kim 72, Louis de Jager 72, Daniel Fox 72
73 - Siddikur Rahman 73, Dean Burmester 73, Edoardo Molinari 73, Richard Mcevoy 73, Udayan Mane 73, Philip Eriksson 73, Jeremy Wendelken 73, Alejandro Canizares 73, Matias Calderon 73, Doug McGuigan 73, Pierre Pellegrin 73, Robin Sciot-Siegrist 73
74 - Garth Mulroy 74, Thomas Pieters 74, Shiv Kapur 74, Justin Walters 74, Jake Redman 74, Aadil Bedi 74, Anthony Michael 74, Steve Surry 74, Toto Thimba 74, Lyle Rowe 74, Jaco Prinsloo 74, Miguel Tabuena 74, Jaco Van Zyl 74, Jeff Winther 74, Settee Prakongvech 74, Aaron Cockerill 74
75 - Chiragh Kumar 75, Benjamin Poke 75, Benjamin Follett-Smith 75, Jeev Milkha Singh 75, Jean Hugo 75, Riekus Nortje 75, Janne Kaske 75, Clement Sordet 75, Alexander Bjork 75, Naras Luangpetcharaporn 75, Poom Pattaropong 75, James Hart du Preez 75
76 - Martin Rohwer 76, Karandeep Kochhar 76, David Gleeson 76, Andre De Decker 76, Lloyd Jefferson Go 76
77 - Matthias Schmid 77
78 - Michael Palmer 78, Danny Masrin 78, Ruan Conradie 78
79 - Malcolm Kokocinski 79
81 - Arjun Prasad 81
82 - Shubhankar Sharma 82
- Sunshine Tour