South African Richard Sterne and German Maximilian Kieffer shared the lead on 63 after the first round of the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in Johannesburg on Thursday.
The pair are two strokes ahead of South Africans M.J. Daffue, Bryce Easton and Tyrone Mordt as well as Swede Joakim Lagergren and US golfer Peter Uihlein in an event co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the local Sunshine Tour.
David Horsey of England, Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka, Espen Kofstad of Norway and Brazilian Adilson da Silva are among a dozen golfers a further shot back on 66 after an opening round staged in clear, hot South African summer conditions.
Pre-tournament favorite and 2011 US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa began with a 68, while compatriot and defending champion Branden Grace would have expected to do better than a 72 after the first 18 holes.
Sterne started his round superbly with three consecutive birdies, followed by another on eight and an eagle on nine, where a driver and a four-iron brought him to the edge of the green and his deft chip dropped into the hole.
The hot streak cooled somewhat on the back nine with Sterne adding two birdies to maintain a trend of good starts having opened with a 62 at the Dubai Desert Classic last week, where he came second to Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher.
“Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens,” five-time European Tour winner Sterne said. “I just hit the right kind of shots at the right kind of time.”
Tour rookie Kieffer was a model of consistency, rattling off five birdies on the front nine and a further three on the inward journey, while not dropping a single stroke.
“I have been playing really well during the last few weeks, and I just tried to stay positive on the golf course and today was another good round,” he said.
Easton had the first hole-in-one of his career on 12, and the eagle coupled with five birdies left the South African well placed to pose a challenge this weekend.
“You do not think about a hole-in-one when you stand on the tee — and when the ball goes in, it takes a couple of seconds to realize that it has actually disappeared. It’s an awesome feeling.” Easton said.
Each competitor in the 210-strong field chasing a 206,050 euros (US$278,744) first prize, plays one round over the West course and one over the longer, more challenging East course, where the final two rounds will be staged.