Pádraig Harrington failed to recover from a poor front nine, carding a four over 76 to end the opening day eight shots off the lead in the $7m Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The Dubliner, 45, went to Sun City knowing that long, straight driving would serve him well but hit just half the fairways on day one. He also bogeyed the third, seventh and eighth before running up a seven at the par-five ninth to turn in five over 41.
Birdies at the 11th and 14th hinted at a back nine revival before he bogeyed the 17th and ended the day tied for 56th behind leaders Felipe Aguilar of Chile, Englishman Ross Fisher and Korea’s Jeunghun Wang at Gary Player Country Club.
Henrik Stenson took another small step toward being crowned 2016 Race to Dubai champion after the Swede opened his account with a three under par 69 to sit within a shot of the lead.
Stenson rallied with three birdies in his final four holes to move into early contention in South Africa.
The reigning Open champion can win the Race to Dubai for the second time in his career with a victory here, as long as Danny Willett finishes outside the top two. The Englishman signed for a three over par first round 75 to end the day in share of 47th position.
Joining Stenson in a share of fourth were Ryder Cup team-mate Chris Wood - who almost didn't make it to the first tee after a recurrence of a neck injury - compatriot Alex Noren, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, Richie Ramsay of Scotland and the two leading South Africans George Coetzee and Jaco Van Zyl.
“I didn't expect that score actually. The course wasn't playing very easy. We have to start with the fact the course is not easy. It's very difficult for me to judge distance because of the altitude, so I'm quite happy with today's round.
“I try to be very strategic. I don't go for every single hole out here. It worked out today and hopefully it will work out for the next three days.”
“I had really good putts today. I made a lot of one-putts and some big saves. So I'm trying to wait for my birdies and keep making pars, and I did that well today.
“I like the course. When I played the practice round, I found it really tough, but playing in the tournament, I have felt it become a little bit easier so I’m hoping it’s going to getting better and better.”
“I’m delighted. I was working my butt off to birdie the last, I have to say. After bogeying 17, and I did well to salvage bogey there, I wanted to try to make birdie because I let a few chances slip on the back nine.
“I didn't have much choice because five-wood was kind of bringing the bunker into play so I had to hit three-iron and I think I had 202 yards, 187 down-breeze and just ripped a seven-iron in there and it pitched about 200 yards. I left myself a good look at birdie and myself and my caddie read it really well, took our time and I was very pleased to see it drop. A 68 is a great start.”
“I’m very pleased. It was below average on the front nine and I hit a good shot into eight and drained a nice birdie putt on nine to turn in red figures, but it was a struggle on the front nine. I hit it nicely on the back nine and rounded off with some good birdies on 15, 16, 17 and a good par save on last. I’m very happy with that round.
“It would be nice to wrap up the Race to Dubai, but I just want to play as well as I can for these two weeks and see where it takes me. Of course, you're always going to look a little bit and see what the other guys are doing, but at the end of the day I've got to focus on my game and I managed to do that, so I’m happy with today’s work.”
“It's tough to smile out there because it's quite tricky, demanding and bouncy. It was a lot of fun to play, but you've got to stay on your game.
“I enjoy this course and I think you've got a lot of opportunities but you've got to play the right way. It can bite you pretty fast.”
“Honestly that's probably one of the best rounds I've ever played. I couldn't really move my head this morning, and I had sort of a reoccurrence of the neck injury that flared up in the summer and ruined my summer really. It was completely random.
“With very strong tablets, it becomes easier and it does help once you're out there. I know I can play around this golf course, clearly. It's so tough though. As long as you keep your head and plod along and don't let things bother you, I think there'll be quite a big separation in the scores this week. Somebody who keeps their head and just plods along will be right up there.”
“I really love the golf course here. I haven't been here before, this is my debut, but it's a great course to play. You've got to drive it well, which I did today. That gave me lots of chances coming into the greens. It's a little bit of a tricky wind.
“It sort of swirls at times and you've got to be quite accurate coming down the stretch with the clubs. All in all, it was a really good day. I just need to sharpen up the short game a touch, and bring it into tomorrow and then chase another good score.”
“It was a little bit of a scramble and there were a couple of loose shots out there. But I felt like I capitalised on the holes that I hit good shots on. It’s nice to make two eagles in a round. All in all I'm quite happy with the score, but there are a couple of things to sort out on the range.
“Last week in Turkey I played really well. I hit every shot the way I wanted to. Obviously one bad hole doesn't really affect your game enough to throw the baby out with the bath water. Today, it was a little loose, but I’m quite happy with the score.”
Round one scores
68 R Fisher (Eng), J Wang (Kor), F Aguilar (Chi),
69 R Ramsay (Sco), H Stenson (Swe), J Van Zyl (RSA), V Dubuisson (Fra), G Coetzee (RSA), A Noren (Swe), C Wood (Eng),
70 J Quesne (Fra), F Zanotti (Par), T Aiken (RSA),
71 D Horsey (Eng), A Cañizares (Esp), S Hend (Aus), R Paratore (Ita), B Grace (RSA), D Lingmerth (Swe), R Karlberg (Swe),
72 L Haotong (Chn), L Oosthuizen (RSA), A Sullivan (Eng), D Lipsky (USA), L Bjerregaard (Den), M Southgate (Eng),
73 L Jensen (Den), J Carlsson (Swe), M Manassero (Ita), R Goosen (RSA), B Dredge (Wal),
74 M Siem (Ger), R Wattel (Fra), R Gouveia (Por), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), J Luiten (Ned), R Jacquelin (Fra), B Hebert (Fra), C Schwartzel (RSA), S Kjeldsen (Den), R Rock (Eng), J Lagergren (Swe), M Ilonen (Fin), N Colsaerts (Bel), R Sterne (RSA), G Bourdy (Fra),
75 M Warren (Sco), A Otaegui (Esp), A Johnston (Eng), D Willett (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng), M Fraser (Aus), N Elvira (Esp), S Lee (Kor),
76 D Drysdale (Sco), R Cabrera Bello (Esp), T Jaidee (Tha), T Pieters (Bel), B Stone (RSA), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), P Larrazábal (Esp), Pádraig Harrington (Irl), R Bland (Eng),
77 A Levy (Fra), C Paisley (Eng), L Slattery (Eng), T Olesen (Den), N Holman (Aus), J Morrison (Eng),
79 J Campillo (Esp),
81 M Kaymer (Ger)