Justin Harding led a strong local charge during Thursday's Tshwane Open 2016 action, shooting an opening round of 63 to take the lead.
Compatriot Anthony Michael sits one shot behind the leader and one ahead of Theunis Spangenberg, as the top of the leaderboard is made up entirely of South African players.
Defending champion George Coetzee finished two under to make the top 10, putting himself in a strong position to defend his title.
Here's a look at the leaderboard after the first day of action:
|Pos||Player||To Par||Thursday Score|
|4||Jaco Van Zyl||-4||66|
For the full leaderboard, visit the European Tour's official website.
Harding Explodes on Back Nine, Takes Lead
Harding showed solid form on the front nine with three birdies and a single bogey, but he really turned up the heat after the turn, landing five more birdies to finish the day seven under and in the lead.
A run of three straight birdies tied him with Spangenberg at five under, and a birdie-birdie finish saw him complete his round on a high note.
As shared by Jacaranda FM Sport, it was exactly the kind of start the 30-year-old needed after some recent struggles:
Per the European Tour's official website, Harding has never finished in the top 10 of a European Tour event, but he has four wins on the Sunshine Tour under his belt and knows the African greens like no other.
Michael was one of the late starters and showed off his excellent short game on his way to a six-under finish, although he came agonisingly close to tying Harding at the top of the leaderboard.
He carded three birdies on his first four holes of the back nine and matched Harding the rest of the way, only to drop a shot on the 18th.
Spangenberg appeared to be on his way to the lead after a strong start, scoring 31 on the front nine, but a double-bogey on the 10th hurt his score. The 32-year-old did a good job rebounding from the setback and hit three more birdies on his way to a five-under 65, a promising start to his tournament.
As he told the European Tour's official website, Spangenberg was more than happy with his performance: "I'm extremely happy. Putting was good, driving was good, the game feels solid at the moment so I'm just trying to keep the bogeys off the card. I managed to come through there and I don't think there is extra pressure now when you are in the tournament. You're part of the field."
Jaco van Zyl has been a regular on the European Tour for years, and he put himself in a strong position to make a run at this year's title with an opening round of 66, leaving him three shots behind Harding.
Van Zyl made birdie three times on the front nine but struggled on the back nine, although he was able to limit the damage to just two bogeys.
Fabrizio Zanotti and Richard Sterne both failed to play a major role on Thursday, finishing at even par and two under, respectively, but they did manage to provide one of the top highlights of the day, per the European Tour's official Twitter account:
Haydn Porteous couldn't steal the show with his play on Thursday, finishing at even par and leaving himself with a lot of work to do in order to make the cut, but he managed to excite the fans in a different way.
The Joburg Open winner decided he didn't need his shoes to attempt a shot on two different occasions―and even dropped his shirt once as well, per the European Tour's official Twitter account:
Porteous knew all eyes would be on him after his Cinderella run at the Joburg Open, but the 21-year-old showed his age during the first round of the Tshwane Open. Five birdies on the front nine were offset by a bogey and a double bogey, and a run of three straight bogeys to close out the back nine was the last thing he needed.
South Africans have won two of the three editions of the Tshwane Open, with Coetzee winning it last year, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see the local heroes do well again in 2016. The defending champion sits five shots behind Harding and will like his chances of repeating, while Van Zyl is also a player to keep an eye on.