Darren Clark during the first round of the Tswane Open at The Els Club, Copperleaf in Centurion. Photo: Catherine Kotze/SASPAFormer Open winner Darren Clarke showed signs that he is recovering from his slump but it was Damien McGrane who topped the Irish contingent after the opening round of the Tshwane Open in South Africa.

As Clarke, now 164th in the world, opened with a three under 69 at at Centurion, McGrane hit a 68 to hime boy Darren Fichardt by just three shots.

The Pretoria native had eight birdies and a bogey in a seven under 65 to lead by one from Sweden’s Björn Åkesson.

But Clarke and McGrane will go into today’s second round with high hopes that this week could signal the beginning of the week for the recent struggles.

McGrane, who is 113th in the Race to Dubai, brought his birdie haul for the day to five when he picked up shots at the last two holes to share ninth place on four under.

Clarke, 44, was also chipper after a bogey free 69 on the Ernie Els-designed Copperleaf course.

According to Graham Otway in the Daily Express, the Ulsterman is positive about his game:

“I played nicely. I left a few shots out there, but tee to green was good. I just did not have the speed of the greens all day. I was a bit inconsistent and it is tough to hole putts when your speed is not there.”

Typical of that was the 14-footer Clarke missed for a birdie on the 18th green when one fewer than his 31 putts in the round would have lifted him into the top 10 on the leaderboard.

But, talking positively, he said: “I’m happy with the way I’m swinging, I’m just not that happy with the way I’m scoring.

“I need to get a couple of rounds where the putter gets hot and I can put up a couple of really good scores.

“But, all in all, I’m very pleased with the progress I’m making.”

Peter Lawrie had three birdies and four bogeys in a 73 to lie 100th on one over with Waterville’s David Higgins (74) tied for 119th and Michael Hoey (75) four shots outside the projected cut in 129th.

First Round Scores:

65 D Fichardt (RSA) ,

66 B Åkesson (Swe) ,

67 D Howell (Eng) , J Hugo  (RSA) , J Singh (Ind) , M Tullo (Chi) , C Coetzee  (RSA) , G Lockerbie  (Eng) ,

68 M Korhonen (Fin) , S Wakefield (Eng) , J Ahlers (RSA) , D Willett  (Eng) , K Horne (RSA) , J Sjöholm (Swe) , D Horsey (Eng) , V Groenewald (RSA) , D Burmester (RSA) , S Smith (RSA) , D McGrane (Irl) , M Bremner (RSA) , P Uihlein  (USA) , D Van Der Walt (RSA) , J Harding  (RSA) , S Arnold  (Aus) ,

69 D Van Den Heever (RSA) , A Da Silva (Bra) , C Nel (RSA) , D Clarke (Nir) , G Mulroy (RSA) , J Roos (RSA) , D Botes (RSA) , R De Smidt (RSA) , M Williams (RSA) , J Campillo (Esp) , J Luiten (Ned) , J Kamte (RSA) ,

70 J Kingston (RSA) , G Van Der Merwe (RSA) , T Maseko (RSA) , M Nixon (Eng) , A Snobeck  (Fra) , R Wattel  (Fra) , M Madsen  (Den) , J Blaauw  (RSA) , R Cairns (Zim) , M Baldwin (Eng) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , G Storm  (Eng) , G Muller (RSA) , O Fisher  (Eng) , E Pepperell (Eng) , A Pistorius (RSA) , J Busby (Eng) , R Finch  (Eng) , M Warren (Sco) , A Haindl (RSA) , C Basson (RSA) ,

 71 M Lampert (Ger) , M Southgate  (Eng) , M Wiegele  (Aut) , D Frittelli (RSA) , L De Jager  (RSA) , M Carvell (RSA) , C Lloyd (Eng) , T Van Der Walt (RSA) , J Walters (RSA) , R Rock (Eng) , P Erofejeff (Fin) , A Sullivan (Eng) , S Webster (Eng) , P Whiteford (Sco) , L Ndwandwe (RSA) , J Kruger (RSA) , M Delpodio  (Ita) , T Fisher Jnr (RSA) , C Paisley  (Eng) , D McGuigan (RSA) , O Bekker (RSA) , H Otto (RSA) ,

 72 T Baumann (Ger) , M Campbell (Nzl) , K Broberg (Swe) , S Henry  (Sco) , L Rowe  (RSA) , P Karmis  (RSA) , C Del Moral (Esp) , T Ferreira  (RSA) , O Strydom (RSA) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , G Stal  (Fra) , D Greene (RSA) , N Fasth (Swe) , E Kofstad (Nor) , D Gaunt (Aus) , F Andersson Hed (Swe) , H Buhrmann (RSA) , M Kieffer (Ger) , C Swanepoel (RSA) , E Molinari  (Ita) ,

 73 A Curlewis (RSA) , C Doak (Sco) , D Drysdale (Sco) , J Lara (Esp) , R McGowan  (Eng) , O Floren  (Swe) , R McEvoy  (Eng) , T Sefatsa (RSA) , E Goya (Arg) , D Van Tonder  (RSA) , L Jensen (Den) , W Abery (RSA) , T Lewis (Eng) , S Norris  (RSA) , P Lawrie (Irl) , M Jonzon (Swe) , B Easton (RSA) , A Versfeld (RSA) , T Spangenberg (RSA) ,

 74 D Higgins (Irl) , L Canter (RSA) , A Georgiou (RSA) , B Pieters (RSA) , M Hollick (RSA) , K Davidse (RSA) , J Quesne  (Fra) , B Smith (RSA) , A Michell (RSA) , P Waring  (Eng) ,

 75 S Little (Eng) , A Levy (Fra) , M Hoey  (Nir) , J Lagergren (Swe) , U Van Den Berg  (RSA) , N Schietekat (RSA) , J Van Zyl (RSA) , T Aiken (RSA) , T Moore (RSA) , P McIntyre (RSA) , D Hewan (RSA) ,

 76 J Parry (Eng) , M Lundberg (Swe) , J Van Tonder (RSA) , B Vaughan (RSA) , M Carlsson  (Swe) , A Kaleka  (Fra) , W Coetsee (RSA) , J Olazábal (Esp) ,

 77 K Dube (RSA) , S Dyson  (Eng) , E De La Riva  (Esp) , M Bothma (RSA) , I Hutchings (RSA) , T Thimba Jnr (RSA) , C Macaulay  (Sco) ,

 80 J Claassen  (RSA) , T Chabangu (RSA)