Robertson Sets Course Record at Alfred Dunhill
Robertson heads England's Paul Eales by three shots, who carded a 7-under-par 65, and a group of seven players on 6-under-par 66.
Robertson's round consisted of just 22 putts, which was the key to his day in slightly easier conditions than the players are normally used to at the Houghton layout.
'The course is a little less fiery because the rough is not as bad as in previous years,' Robertson said. 'I'm delighted to have shot such a low score. You never set any great expectations on the first day of a new season; you just take it shot by shot.
'I holed everything today. It was the finest putting display I've ever put on in a tournament. The scary thing is that it could have been 18 putts, but I'm just delighted with the way it started.'
The morning field saw a host of 6-under scores being posted, and for a while it seemed that it would be the mark for the day. But Robertson shot nines of 31 and 31 to surpass the previous record of 63 held by South Africa's David Frost.
Robertson started on the back nine and had birdies on the 11th, 12th, 15th 16th and 18th.
'I just wanted to keep it together on my second nine but the putts continued to drop,' Robertson said.
A par on the first was followed by a 20-foot putt for birdie on the second to move him to 6-under, which tied the lead. A further par on the par-five third was a precursor to a run of three consecutive birdies from the fourth to the sixth that moved him into a commanding three-shot lead.
Robertson added a tricky 10-foot downhill putt for birdie on the par-three eighth to move to 10-under-par - and the record score in relation to par.
Earlier, former amateur prodigy Justin Rose was one of the men to post a 66, along with fellow Englishman Paul Broadhurst, who was playing his first competitive round of golf for 10 months after a wrist injury.
Nick Faldo, one of the pre-tournament favorites, returned a 4-under par 68 to leave him well placed heading into the second round.
The only South African to feature in the top three positions was Roodepoort professional Ashley Roestoff, who also posted a 66. Fellow South African Des Terblanche aced the par-3 12th with a soft nine-iron that pitched less than a foot past the hole and spun back in. It moved him to 5-under par, but he immediately dropped on the 13th before a double bogey on the 14th ended his momentum. Terblanche managed to birdie the final two holes to return a useful 68.
Mark McNulty, winner of the South African Masters at the Wild Coast a week ago, carded a 5-under-par 67, while Retief Goosen finished on a disappointing 1-over par 73.
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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback
As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.
The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.
It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:
Breaking news. In addition to limited flight balls, the USGA plans to ban working out, proper diet and swinging faster than 105mph. They are also planning on removing the 3 point shot in the NBA.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 23, 2018
If we were playing a match, would you rather hit 7 iron to my 9 iron OR hit hybrid to my 5 iron? Oh and by the way, I can still hit par 5s in two with 3 wood. You can't.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 25, 2018
Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.
Na fires back over slow play criticism from cricketer
Kevin Na fired back over recent criticism he received about his purported slow play at last week's Genesis Open.
Kevin Pietersen is a retired English cricketer with more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. He tweeted a video of Na, known as one of the slower players on the PGA Tour, taking more than a minute to line up and hit what he described as a "Tap In" during the final round at Riviera:
SERIOUSLY, Kevin Na?!?!— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) February 18, 2018
That Is A Tap In, MATE! pic.twitter.com/YMmNT6m5H7
He then added another video of himself on a green in Dubai, where he again called out Na and showed how long he believed it should take for a player to brush in a short putt:
Na has faced his fair share of slow play criticism, but this time he decided to defend himself. Na isn't on Twitter, but he took to Instagram to tell Pietersen to "stick to your own sport," pointing out both the length of the putt in question and the stakes that were involved during the final round, when Na went on to tie for second behind Bubba Watson:
@kp24 lets get some facts straight. Shot tracker shows what u call “tap in” 3ft 4in. Since when is 3’4’’ on green speed 12 a “tap in.” FYI 1 shot for me on Sunday was 300k. Difference between T2 and T4. Yes, I did back off because the line didn’t feel right. So what! BTW that was the only putt I backed off all day. Also our group was on pace all day! We waited if anything. @pgatour @golfdigest @golf_com @golfchannel #getyourfactstraight #sticktoyourownsport #everyshotcounts
Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.
The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.
Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.
Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.
The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.
Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.
On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.
''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.
''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''
Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.
''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.
''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''
Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.