Brian Davis, Peter Baker and Paul Broadhurst claimed the three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the rain-delayed first round in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Houghton GC, Johannesburg.
Davis, a 25 year old from Enfield, emerged refreshed from his winter base in Florida to fire a four under par 68 in sodden conditions on Thursday to lead by one shot with half of the field still to complete their opening round.
However Ryder Cup men Baker and Broadhurst returned for a 7am start on Friday and, despite the steady drizzle, managed to emulate Davis’s performance by shooting 68s.
Broadhurst, fresh from five days at La Manga in Spain where he combined a family holiday with some serious practice, admitted: “It could have been worse and it could have been better. You never know at the start of a new season.”
Baker, without a European Tour victory since 1993, when he played in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry, birdied three holes in a row from the second to stake his claim to a place among the leaders.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Davis had been quickly out of the blocks, picking up six birdies in his round, despite beginning and ending with bogeys. He admitted: “It was very hard work. I was up at 4.30am and had to sit around for six or seven hours, then it rained all the way round. I just ate and had a sleep in the locker room.
“It was my first competitive round of the season so it was tiring. I had to grind it out. It was good to get it round and I'm pretty happy.”
Davis had spent three months in Orlando with his American girlfriend and working with his golf coach, Tony Ziegler. The hard graft paid off with a fine round which helped him forget the frustration of missing out in the second stage of the American Qualifying School.
There was a log-jam of players just one stroke behind the trio of leaders, including Scotland's Gary Orr. One of the most consistent performers on the European Tour in 1999, he opened his new campaign by reaching the turn in 32. However he came home in 37 for a round of 69.
Ronnie McCann, born in South Africa but resident in Florida for over 20 years and now an American citizen, also shot 69 following a winter under the sun in Orlando, playing mini-tour events and plotting a new business partnership with ‘Wild Thing’ John Daly.
He explained: “I’ve been a friend of John’s for about 15 years and we have signed a five-year contract to start up a clothing line, like Greg Norman did with the Shark design. We designed a logo with a lion on it and John will have that logo on his golf bag and anything else to do with John Daly Enterprises.”
Several of the leading pre-tournament favourites began promisingly. Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters champion, carded a 70 after completing his delayed first round. Ian Woosnam and David Frost both carded 71s – the latter grabbing five birdies in a six-hole burst on the back nine.
Retief Goosen, who finished fifth on the Volvo Order of Merit last season, opened with a level par 72.