JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Steven O'Hara and local favorite Jbe Kruger each shot a 7-under 65 Thursday to share the lead after the first round of the South African Open.
The pair led a group of four South Africans by a stroke on the undulating Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Serengeti Golf Club. Two-time champion Retief Goosen (66) was in that group after hitting an eagle, seven birdies and three bogeys at the European Tour event.
Defending champion Ernie Els began his defense with a 69. The five-time winner holed six birdies but also made three bogeys.
Needing at least a fourth-place finish to retain his tour card next season, O'Hara picked up five birdies after starting at No. 10. He dropped a shot at the fourth – his 13th – but had another birdie and an eagle to finish strongly.
“I hit a lot of great shots,'' O'Hara said. “I had it inside 10 feet pretty much every hole and felt I could have made more.''
Kruger, who led last weekend's Alfred Dunhill Championship after 36 holes, joined him at the top of the leaderboard. The South African went bogey-free to once again be in contention for his first European Tour title.
Simon Dyson, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 32, shot a 70 at the (euro) 1 million ($1.3 million) tournament, which is also co-sanctioned by South Africa's Sunshine Tour.
Goosen, winner of the South African Open in 1995 and 2005, had five birdies going out and eagled the par-4 No. 2, his 11th, by pitching in. But he slipped up with back-to-back bogeys before another birdie when he almost holed his tee shot at the short No. 9.
“It was a disappointing finish. It could've been one of those rounds of nine or 10 under,'' Goosen said. “But I'll take 6 under at the SA Open. It's where you want to be.''
Tyrone Mordt, David Hewan and Merrick Bremner joined Goosen at 6 under, while Felipe Aguilar (67) held a share of seventh.
Teammates at the Presidents Cup last week, Goosen and Els are expected to renew their regular rivalry at the South African Open. Els beat Goosen to the title by a shot last year in a captivating final-round tussle. But the five-time winner was subdued on Thursday, with three dropped shots breaking up his run of birdies.
“I'd love to be better, but it's been a good start,'' the No. 53-ranked Els said. “I feel the way I'm playing there is a low one out there.''
With the season-ending Dubai World Championship approaching, there's a batch of players at Serengeti looking to either save their cards or squeeze into the European Tour finale.