Branden Grace missed a two-footer for birdie which would have seen him match the course-record on the West Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington in the opening round of the Joburg Open.
But his eight-under-par 63 put him in the early clubhouse lead in the €1.3-million tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour.
The course record of 62 was set by Desvonde Botes in 2006, and matched last year in the opening round of the Joburg Open by Neil Schietekat – although there was placing last year.
“I have been concentrating on putting the last couple of day very hard,” said Grace, “so it was a pity that I missed that two-footer on 17. I just misread it and it went a little bit more than I thought.”
Grace, who won his maiden professional tournament in last November’s Coca-Cola Championship at Fancourt in his hometown of George, finished in a share of eighth in last week’s Africa Open after a final round which included a triple-bogey and a double-bogey in consecutive holes.
“I have been feeling like I can win every week,” he said. “Last week was just a pity. I made a couple of mistakes at the end there, but I can only learn from that.”
His putting practice was clearly one of the lessons he took from that. “I am hitting the ball really well,” he said, “and I kept it in play from the tees. I kept hitting the greens which gave me the chances out there.”
He converted one of those chances into an eagle-three on the 507-metre (554-yard) ninth. “I just hit driver down there and a five-iron in,” he said. “I was just off the green and made a 15-footer for eagle.”
The rest of his round was flawless as he made six birdies to go with his eagle.
Colm Moriarty of Ireland was the best player off the East Course in the morning – the 210-man field plays a round on each of the East and West courses, before the halfway cut is made and the final two rounds are contested over the East Course – as he made a four-under-par 67. He dropped just a single shot in his round, on the 181-metre (200-yard) 12th.
Overall, Grace led by two in the clubhouse from Floris de Vries of the Netherlands, who bogeyed the 18th on the West course to finish on six-under 65.