Frenchman Hebert Benjamin took a one stroke lead today ahead of a chasing pack of seven pursuers as Kenyans fell off the pace on the opening day of the Magical Kenya at Karen Country Club. The 34year old Frenchman sunk a birdie on the 18th hole for a seven under par 64 to break away from the crowd of Kalle Samooja, Calum Hill, Connor Syme, Adrian Meronk, Sam Horsfield, Raphael Jacquelin and Bernd Ritthammer who finished the day one stroke behind.
Enroute to taking the overnight lead, Benjamin got off to a shocking start bogeying hole number one before recovering to sink four birdies on the front nine, a momentum that he took to the back nine where he picked two birdies and an eagle on the 12th par 5 hole.
With five previous winners in the mix, a lot of drama and nerves are expected at Karen tomorrow as the visiting pros chase valuable points in the “Race to Dubai” Order of Merit. It was however a rude welcome for the former champions as they were pegged more than six shots back in their quest to lift the trophy for the second time. Englishman Aaron Rai, Lorenzo Gagli, Sebastien Soderberg and Hyden Porteous could only manage a one under par result today. 2019 champion Guido Migliozzi shot level par one better than Italian Edoardo Molinari.
Tomorrow’s second round is expected to serve some drama as South Africans Justin Harding and long hitting Wilco Nienaber chase the leaders while the French troops of Romain Langasque, Victor Dubuisson and Jacquelin will be aiming friendly fire at leader and compatriot Benjamin.
Aggressive play is also expected from the likes of Kurt Kitayama, Luiten Joost and Zimbabwe’s Robson Chinhoi on -4 as they aim to charge up the leaderboard. Rai, Molinari, Migliozzi and Gagli are also expected to go flat out to avoid the disaster of missing the cut. Only the top placed 65 players and ties will make to the weekend round.
The opening day was no doubt disastrous for the Kenya contingent with amateur Taimur Malik and Eric Ooko the bright sparks of the day shooting two under par 69. Malik’s two birdies on each side were enough to mask the two bogeys picked on the front nine for a respectable two under par 69 same as compatriot Ooko who assembled four bogeys, four birdies and an eagle. Tony Omuli remains a shot behind one ahead of Greg Snow who played level par today.
The biggest shock on the opening day was the atypical performance by veteran Dismas Indiza. Widely tipped to take the fight to the visiting pros due to his red-hot form coming to the Magical Kenya and Savannah Classic double-headers, Indiza failed to turn up today carding a career high five over par 76. A birdie on the par four 9th hole was inconsequential as Kenya’s top ranked golfer shot four bogeys and a double bogey all afternoon. It will take a miracle for the veteran to muscle his way into the weekend rounds. The shine was taken off the otherwise beautiful event after it was announced that the opening round of the event would not be broadcasted after all. The situation remains uncertain as the European Tour production team is yet to give a firm commitment on when it will provide the live feed to broadcasters.