Michael Hoey is Irish golf's human roller coaster. One minute he's soaring high, the next he's hurtling in a death-dive towards the ground. Could 2010 be the year he finally puts his career on some sort of even keel?

Apparently not yet on the evidence of his start in the Africa Open at East London Golf Club in the Eastern Cape, where he birdied three of his last four holes to open with a five under par 68 around the 6,770-yard, par-73 track.

That was good enough to give the Ulsterman a share of 10th place on a tightly packed leaderboard and leave him just two strokes adrift of a quintet of leaders - his playing partner Titch Moore, fellow South Africans Trevor Fisher Jnr and Richard Sterne, Denmark’s Mark Haastrup and Sweden’s Patrik Sjoland, who all shot seven under par rounds of 66.

Hoey, who shared second in last year’s Africa Open and went on to win his maiden European Tour title in Estoril before losing form completely, had to wait anxiously for the arrival of his clubs after they went missing ahead of the tournament.

But with the new grooves rule not being implemented until after next week's Joburg Open, Darren Clarke was glad to see his old sticks arrive in time for the start have sent for them as he opened with a four under par 69 that could easily have been a couple better.

The Ulsterman, 41, was just level par through nine holes before getting some reward for his good play with birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 17th.

A poor approach to the last cost him his second bogey of the day but he is very much in contention at the start of a year he hopes will see him regain his Ryder Cup place.

While Clarke is in his 20th season, Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney birdied his final hole, the par four eighth, to card a solid, level par 73 on his European Tour debut.

But it was tougher going for another rookie, Simon Thornton, who only teed it up out of respect for the last wishes of his father Steve, who sadly passed away last Saturday.

The 32 year old Huddersfield native began with a morale-crushing double bogey six at his first hole (the ninth) and was four over after just four holes following bogeys at the 11th and 12th.

Showing the kind of grit that helped him earn his card at last month's Qualifying School, Thornton battled back brilliantly to card a one over par 74.

Gary Murpphy, who had to go to the Qualifying School to regain his card, posted a disappointing, two over par 75.

With the top 65 and ties on three under par, Kearney, Thornton and Murphy require something sensational to survive the cut on Friday.