JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Branden Grace launched his bid for back-to-back European Tour victories on home soil by firing a lead-sharing 65 in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club near Johannesburg on Thursday (Jan 11).
The 29-year-old eight-time winner on the circuit won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City two months ago, his last appearance on the Tour.
Grace, who is ranked 30 in the world, shares first place at seven under with American Chase Koepka, a brother of reigning US Open champion Brooks, who lies 306 places lower on the merit ladder.
They lead by one stroke from Chris Paisley of England after a day that brought relief to officials as predicted seasonal electrical storms did not arrive.
Of the five former Major winners in the field, South Africans Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel did best with 69s.
Compatriot Ernie Els fired a 71, Canadian Mike Weir a 73 and Trevor Immelman of South Africa a 79 over the par-72, 6,942-metre/7,594-yard track.
Defending champion Graeme Storm of England, who pipped golf superstar Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in a play-off last year to win the second oldest national championship after the British Open, carded a 75.
Grace, a South African, had a haywire front nine that included two eagles, two birdies and two bogeys.
A far more settled back nine produced a birdie and another eagle, a record third for Grace during a European Tour round.
"I was a little bit rusty with some of the wedge shots and things like that, but all in all very pleased with the outcome," said Grace.
"I think I pretty much got the most out of that round. It is a great start to the year. On all the par-fives, I hit great tee shots." Koepka matched Grace with halves of 32 and 33 as he recovered from bogeying the first hole of each nine.
The American eagled the second, then birdied three of four holes from the fifth and four of five from the 12th.
"I eagled the second and kind of kept it going from there. I just stayed patient after that first hole setback," he said.
Paisley, the clubhouse leader for much of an opening round played in warm, partly cloudy conditions, birdied seven holes and bogeyed one.
Four consecutive birdies from the 10th lifted Schwartzel's round, while the card of four-time Major winner Els was stained by successive bogeys at par fours.
Weir, whose 2003 US Masters triumph was the first by a Canadian and a left-hander, finished one over after a double-bogey six at 12.
Another former Masters champion, Immelman, who has been struggling for a while, bogeyed five holes before a double-bogey on 18 completed a round to forget.
Jamie Donaldson of Wales scored the first hole in one of the tournament at 14 with a nine iron during a round of 70.