Sterne, the 2008 champion, continued to prove that he is over the back problems that plagued him for two years as he produced a flawless round with six birdies and an eagle.
Kieffer, the 22-year-old who hails from former world number one Martin Kaymer’s home city of Dusseldorf, is a rookie on the European Tour after finishing 14th in the 2012 Challenge Tour, but he putted superbly to collect five birdies on the front nine and three coming in.
There were five golfers within the top 11 who opened the tournament on the tougher East Course, with Durbanite Bryce Easton leading the way with a seven-under-par 65 on the par-72 layout, while compatriots Jake Redman, Trevor Fisher Junior, Allan Versfeld and Tyrone Ferreira were on six-under.
American Peter Uihlein, the world’s number one amateur in 2010, Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren and South Africans Tyrone Mordt and MJ Daffue were the other golfers on six-under, having all played the par-71 West Course.
Espen Kofstad, the 2012 Challenge Tour order of merit winner, was tied for the lead on eight-under-par as he reached the 18th hole on the West Course, but found trouble off the tee and on the green to post a triple-bogey seven and slide back into a tie for 12th on five-under.
Sterne’s eagle came on the par-five 507-metre ninth hole when he chipped in from just short of the green and the Pretoria product said the key to his round was minimising mistakes.
“Some days it feels good and everything just kind of happens. Golf is strange – you’ve got to hit the right kind of shots at the right time.
I’ve been minimising the mistakes and I hit 17 greens [in regulation] today, so I was never really in trouble at all,” Sterne said.
Fisher, voted the Sunshine Tour’s Players’ Player of the Year earlier this week, had the most topsy-turvy round of the frontrunners, with eight birdies and two bogeys and he admitted afterwards that he was struggling with nerves and the sense of expectation that came with the award.
For Easton, the highlight of his superb round was a hole-in-one on the par-three 12th hole, the first of his career, and worth about R100 000 of free accommodation from the Hilton Hotel for the 25-year-old.
Easton, who won twice on the Sunshine Tour last year, said he was looking for more consistency in the co-sanctioned events.
“I want to play more consistently and compete more in these bigger events. Last year I had a couple of wins, but I didn’t play so well in these co-sanctioned tournaments,” Easton said.
Two-time champion Charl Schwartzel was purring along nicely on the East Course as he posted a four-under-par 68, leaving him tied for 25th alongside George Coetzee, who played the West Course.
But defending champion Branden Grace, playing in the same three-ball as Schwartzel, could only manage a level-par 72.