A late charge gave England’s Matthew Nixon an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead after the first round of the South African Open, the start of the 2014 European Tour season.
Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen and former Masters winner Charl Schwartzel also were in early contention at their home tournament.
Nixon was one of the last players to finish Thursday, but ended with birdie, eagle, par to knock Italy’s Marco Crespi and South Africa’s Jbe Kruger off the top of the leaderboard at Glendower Golf Club.
Goosen began with a 66 to tie for third, while Schwartzel shot 67. Schwartzel’s younger brother, Attie, a pro on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, matched his more famous sibling to share sixth place at 5 under.
Goosen is still recovering from back surgery in 2012 that wiped out most of his last two seasons and made steady progress on Thursday with seven birdies and just one dropped shot at the par-3 No. 6.
“Six under any day is pretty good,” the 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open champion said. “It was nice to finish off good, too. I’m feeling good. I’m going after the ball a little bit now, so getting some consistency going.”
The 44-year-old Goosen hasn’t won a tournament since March 2009.
Charl Schwartzel, fresh off a victory in China on the OneAsia Tour last month, had five birdies, while Attie Schwartzel had seven birdies and two bogeys.
South African Christiaan Basson set the early pace, adding four birdies and an eagle to a string of pars in a 66. Crespi and Kruger picked up four straight birdies from No. 12 through 15 and moved a shot ahead.
Nixon took the lead at the end after opening with four birdies in his first five holes and finishing strongly with an eagle on the par-5 No. 8, his 17th.
Former British Open champion David Duval had a 74, and Europe Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley shot 75.
The new season teed off in Johannesburg just four days after Henrik Stenson won the 2013 money list and season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.