Golf: Bekker birdie blitz gives him one-shot Dunhill lead

MALELANE, South Africa (AFP) - South African Oliver Bekker birdied four consecutive back-nine holes en route on Thursday (Dec 13) to a 66 and a one-shot first round lead in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Australian Dimitrios Papadatos, the clubhouse leader for most of the day at Leopard Creek Country Club in northeastern South Africa, lies second after a 67 on the par-72 course.

Raphael Jacquelin of France is one shot further back on 68 followed by groups of nine on 69 and 70 after a testing opening round with high winds and fast greens.

Favourite Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, a four-time winner of the Dunhill Championship, could manage only one birdie as he began with a one-over 73.

Bekker had three birdies and one bogey on his outward nine followed by four straight birdies from the 11th hole.

The 34-year-old from Pretoria is ranked 305 in the world and seeking a first European Tour title after seven victories on the southern Africa Sunshine Tour.

As a late starter, he was less affected by the wind, which weakened during the afternoon in hot, partly cloudy conditions.

"The wind died a little bit and I was glad to be able to take advantage of that situation," said Bekker.

"I hit the ball really well today, finding most of the fairways, and coping with the really firm greens. It was a very solid round."

Papadatos, another challenger chasing a first European Tour triumph, picked up three birdies on the front nine and two coming back.

Jacquelin, four times a European Tour winner, began erratically with two birdies and two bogeys during his outward trek.

But a much improved inward half from the Frenchman allowed him to pick up four birdies and not drop a shot.

Among those on 69 is defending champion Brandon Stone while Louis Oosthuizen, winner of his first South African Open title last Sunday, carded a 71.

Schwartzel never clicked at his favourite golf course, which borders the Kruger National Park, and after turning in level par had a bogey six at 13 to finish one over.