The first group out in The 2012 Race to Dubai carded a combined 18 under par as Thomas Aiken and Retief Goosen lit up the opening round of the Africa Open.
South African Aiken carded a nine under par 64 at East London Golf Club to lead by one from his compatriots Goosen, who earlier hit the first shot of the new European Tour season, and Jaco Ahlers.
The 28 year old Aiken won his maiden European Tour title at last year’s Open de España and posted nine top-ten finishes in 2011, and he maintained that excellent form with two eagles and five birdies in a bogey-free round.
“I wasn’t really expecting that after two weeks without touching a club,” said Aiken. “It was a great morning this morning – early start, and the scoring conditions were good.
“It was out there for the taking and luckily I hit some really good shots and made putts.
“I really enjoyed the round today; this is not the longest course, but it bites if you go skew. Anything off the line on this course is pretty much a reload off the tee, which makes it a thinking man’s course.
“There are a lot of risk-and-reward holes – a couple of driveable par fours and tricky par threes – and I think that a lot of new courses lack that challenge.”
Aiken and Goosen played alongside Peter Hedblom (72) and there was little indication of the fireworks to come when Goosen started the day with a bogey at the ninth.
But the two-time US Open Champion reeled off five birdies in a row from the 11th, where Aiken eagled.
Aiken, whose approach play was superb all day, finished the back nine with a hattrick of birdies, before Goosen sunk a four foot birdie putt at the first.
World Number 87 Aiken produced a stunning second to two feet at the par five third and eagled, and Goosen followed him in for birdie.
Aiken birdied the fifth, then produced a tremendous bunker shot from 45 yards at the next to leave a tap-in birdie, which Goosen matched to complete the pairs scoring.
Ahlers moved level with Goosen in second place when he sunk a six footer at the seventh for his eighth birdie of the day, and parred his way in to complete an all-South African top three.
“I am very pleased with the way I played, especially that front nine,” said Goosen.
“We were forced to wait around on a lot of holes over the back nine and that was frustrating, but I still managed to pick up three birdies.
“Thomas looked like he was going to shoot nothing out there, so I am very happy to be only one behind at the end of the day.”
Former Ryder Cup hero Phillip Price joined another pair of South Africans, Michael du Toit and Dean O’Riley, in a tie for fourth on seven under.