Mount Juliet’s Kevin Phelan dropped just one shot in a three under 68 to lead the Irish challenge after the opening round of the Joburg Open.
As Paul Dunne, Ruaidhri McGee and Michael Hoey posted one under 71s on the East Course at at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, Phelan did his scoring on the easier West to share 26th place behind South Africa’s Justin Walters.
Walters fired a seven under par 65 on the tougher East Course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club to move one ahead of six players.
Swedes Michael Jonzon and Johan Carlsson and South African Haydn Porteous signed for 66s on the East Course, while English duo David Howell and Anthony Wall and Zimbabwean Mark Williams carded 65s on the par 71 West layout.
A field of 210, the biggest of the season, had gathered in Gauteng with three places at The Open Championship available to non-exempt players who finish in the top ten.
And with only five players - including Howell - in the field currently exempt, this week presents a golden opportunity to get to Royal Troon in July.
Ernie Els, making his debut on at the Joburg Open, was one under after a 70 on the West Course with playing partner Brandon Stone, who won last week at Glendower Golf Club, a shot ahead.