South Africa’s Thomas Aiken made light of a two-week break from the game by returning a nine-under-par 64 on Thursday to take the Africa Open first-round lead.
Seeking a second European Tour title after winning the Spanish Open last year, Aiken produced numerous pin-point approach shots to set up a host of birdies in the opening tournament on the 2012 Road to Dubai.
He is one stroke ahead of compatriots Retief Goosen and Jaco Ahlers at the top of a leaderboard dominated by South Africans as Michael du Toit and Dean O’Riley share fourth place on 66 with Welshman Phillip Price.
Defending champion and shock 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, whose wife is expecting their second child, had to settle for a 69 at the par-73, 6,190m East London Golf Club along the Indian Ocean coast.
George Coetzee, considered a player to watch after a play-off defeat and a number of top-three finishes on the last European Tour, shot a 71 to lie seven strokes behind Aiken.
Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, winner of the second-tier Challenge Tour last season, was among a large group on 69 with compatriot Chris Wood, beaten by Oosthuizen in the play-off that settled last year’s Africa Open.
No one was more surprised than 28-year-old Johannesburg-born Aiken at his low score after taking a festive-season break following his most successful European Tour campaign that included nine top-10 finishes.
“I was not really expecting to shoot a 64 after two weeks without touching a club. I was among the first three-ball with Retief and [Swede] Peter Hedblom and the scoring conditions were good,” he said.
Former Major winner Goosen recovered from a first-hole bogey to claim five consecutive birdies from 11 as he seeks a second Africa Open title, having won here three years ago.
“The course is playing as easily as you will see it right now. I have been able to practice since November and I’m feeling very good at the moment,” Goosen said.