Determined David Higgins got his teeth into the new season with a super 69 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
The Waterville man, who turned 34 last week, opened his 2007 European Tour campaign with a fine three under par effort in sweltering South Africa.
Local favourite Ernie Els fired a 72 and Ryder Cup ace Lee Westwood came back from a horror start to shoot 73.
But they were left trailing Higgins, who got up and down from greenside sand at the 18th to finish the day in a share of sixth place.
His 69 left him just one stroke adrift of co-leaders Alessandro Tadini, Wayne de Haas, Charl Schwartzel and Oliver Wilson at the spectacular course on the banks of the Crocodile River and close to the Kruger national park.
But there were plenty of fireworks from Higgins, who needs to take advantage of his start in South Africa after losing his full playing rights this year.
The Kerry kingpin got to two under par with birdies at the par five second and the tricky sixth.
And while he dropped a shot at the 215 yard seventh, he bounced back with three birdies in four holes from the 12th before leaking a shot at the par three 16th.
World No 7 Els went to the turn in two under with four birdies and two bogeys on Leopard Creek's back nine.
But he limped him in two over par for a 72 that left him tied for 38th place.
Westwood double bogeyed the seventh and ninth and then dropped another shot at the 10th to crash to five over par.
But he dug deep to birdie four of the next five holes for a 73 that left him just five off the pace.