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Thursday, 24 November 2011
 Steven O'Hara   (Getty Images)
Steven O'Hara (Getty Images)
Scotland's Steven O'Hara handled the pressure of trying to save his European Tour card to take a share of the first round lead in the SA Open Championship alongside home favourite Jbe Kruger.

O'Hara, who began the year with a fourth place finish at the Africa Open, needs at least another at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Serengeti course and began with a seven under par 65.

A teammate of Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell in the 2001 Walker Cup, the 31 year old shares top spot with Kruger, while twice winner Retief Goosen is among those only one behind.

Five-time champion Ernie Els began his title defence with a 69 and England's Simon Dyson - at 32nd in the Official World Golf Ranking the highest-ranked player in the field - with a 70.

O'Hara eagled the 576 yard eighth and had six birdies.

"I hit a lot of great shots," he said. "I had it inside ten feet pretty much every hole and felt I could have made more birdies."

He is 134th on The Race to Dubai and has to climb to 118th to be exempt for next season.

As things stand this is his last opportunity, but a top five finish would give him a place in next week's UBS Hong Kong Open.

O'Hara had a golden chance at the Czech Open in August to make his immediate future secure, leading with a round to go before dropping to fifth with three closing bogeys.

Kruger led by four halfway through last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship, but finished joint ninth after two closing rounds of 73.

"This is the SA Open - it’s the biggest event when you grow up," he said. "Just to take it one shot at a time is the most important thing."

Goosen, beaten by a shot in Durban last December after a tremendous final round duel with Els, reached seven under as well and then had back-to-back bogeys, but finished in style by almost holing his tee shot to the 230 yard ninth.

Like Els, he has just fallen out of the game's top 50 and has been battling injury.

"The whole year's been a struggle, but my back's been better the last month and the exercise I'm doing is helping," he said.

Els won only one of his five games in last week's Presidents Cup defeat and, given his problems on the greens, a three-putt bogey was not the start he was looking for.

The 42 year old fought his way back into things, but closed with a bogey after driving into sand.

"Three under is not bad, but there were a couple of silly bogeys," he said.

"I grew up in this area, so it's nice to be back - and it's a great course."

Goosen shares third spot with fellow South Africans Merrick Bremner, David Hewan and Tyrone Mordt.

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