Ross Fisher and George Coetzee each played the first 15 holes of the Nedbank Golf Challenge without dropping a shot, but it was Englishman Fisher who nailed two successive birdies to claim a two-stroke lead in the first round at Sun City on Thursday.
Fisher, tall and athletic, could be a poster-boy for elegant golf and he produced high-quality iron play and deft putting to move to a brilliant seven-under-par.
Coetzee is more on the burly side but he matched Fisher through 10 holes with five birdies, but thereafter found himself scrambling for pars more than he was putting for birdies.
Brooks Koepka of the United States and Frenchman Alexander Levy will also fancy their chances of finishing high up on the first-round leaderboard as they moved to four-under-par through 14 holes.
South African Charl Schwartzel will be pleased that he has managed to collect five birdies, to offset two bogeys, while struggling with his swing and will be a force to be reckoned with if he continues to improve.
Defending champion Thomas Bjorn raced out of the blocks with a birdie at the first hole, but a double-bogey and two bogeys on the front nine, plus two more dropped shots on the back nine has seen him quickly plummet to the lower reaches of the leaderboard on five-over-par.
Seven golfers were on two-under – veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, Brooks Koepka, South Africans Tim Clark and Louis Oosthuizen, Jonas Blixt, Marcel Siem and Stephen Gallacher.
Both Coetzee and Fisher relied on precision iron play as they vaulted into the lead around the turn with a pair of birdies on the par-five ninth and 10th holes.
Thailand’s Kiridech Aphibarnrat had provided plenty of entertainment for the Sun City spectators as he claimed an early share of the lead when he played the first five holes in three-under-par, with four birdies and a bogey, but bogeys on the ninth, 14th and 16th holes saw him fall back. Coetzee claimed birdies on the first three holes to provide early cheer for those hoping for a first South African winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge since Trevor Immelman in 2007.
The opening holes of the European Tour event held few worries for the golfers as Joost Luiten, Dawie van der Walt, Gallacher and Danny Willett all picked up an early brace of birdies.
Van der Walt, in the field by virtue of winning the 2013 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, made the fastest start of all by birdieing the first hole and then chipping in for eagle on the 520m par-five second, but he could not pick up any more shots on the next three holes, dropping a stroke on the par-three fourth after finding the greenside bunker and then leaving his chip way past the hole. Three successive bogeys from the 15th hole then left him well off the pace.
A disastrous triple-bogey seven at the 11th saw Luiten slump to over-par for his round.
Clark, who teed off in the first group, set the early pace with birdies at the first two holes, but he then lost his way with a bogey at the fifth and a double-bogey at the tricky par-four eighth, before getting back under par with birdies at the 10th and 11th holes. He completed a solid two-under-par 70 with a superb 30-foot putt for birdie from off the green on the last hole.
The conditions at Sun City were close to perfect, a slight breeze helping to offset the heat, and the golfers took advantage with 13 of them under par.