A late afternoon charge gave Matthew Nixon an eight-under 64 and a one-shot lead in the first round of the South African Open on Thursday, the start of the new season on the European Tour.
Two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel were also in early contention at their home tournament.
Nixon was one of the last players to finish their round, but the Englishman finished with birdie, eagle, par to knock Italy’s Marco Crespi and Jbe Kruger of South Africa off the top of the leaderboard at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg.
Goosen began with a 66 to tie for third place at six-under, while Schwartzel carded a 67.
Schwartzel’s younger brother, Attie, a professional on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, matched his more famous sibling to also share sixth place at five-under.
Goosen is still recovering from back surgery last year that wiped out most of his past two seasons and he made steady progress on Thursday with seven birdies and just one dropped shot at the par-three sixth.
“Six-under any day is pretty good,” the 2001 and 2004 US Open champion said. “It was nice to finish off good, too. I’m feeling good. I’m going after the ball a little bit now, so getting some consistency going.”
Now 44, Goosen has not won a tournament since March 2009.
Charl Schwartzel, fresh off a victory in China on the OneAsia Tour last month, had five birdies and no drops in his 67, while Attie Schwartzel carded seven birdies and two bogeys.
South Africa’s Christiaan Basson set the early pace, adding four birdies and an eagle to a string of pars in a 66.
Crespi and Kruger overtook that, with both players on fire in their opening nine holes to pick up four straight birdies from 12 through 15 and move a shot ahead.
Nixon jumped into the lead at the very end, though, after opening with four birdies in his first five holes and then finishing as strongly with an eagle on the par-five eighth, his 17th.
Former Open champion David Duval was two-over after opening with a 74. Europe Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was three-over.
The new European Tour schedule teed off in the eastern suburbs of South Africa’s biggest city just four days after Henrik Stenson won this year’s European money list and the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.