Jaco Van Zyl opened up a one-shot lead on day one of The BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni as he aims to win his first European Tour title on home soil.
The South African has 13 wins on the Sunshine Tour but has never won this event, which has an illustrious list of home victors including Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Hennie Otto and Richard Sterne, all of whom are in the field this week, holding 11 titles between them.
This is Van Zyl's 15th time at the world's second oldest national Open Championship and although he has missed just one cut, on his debut in 2000, his best finish is 12th, in the 2014 season.
A win this week at Glendower Golf Club would not only hand him a first national title but a maiden European Tour win after four second places, including at the dramatic Turkish Airlines Open in November when he was denied by a brilliant finish from Victor Dubuisson.
After firing an opening 65 to take the lead ahead of countryman Shaun Norris, the 36 year old admitted that lifting the trophy on Sunday would be a special experience.
It's a very special week for South Africans, so we're all going to try our best and stay in the mix and if I can get my first European Tour win here, it would just be so much sweeter - Jaco Van Zyl
"But I've got a long season ahead and I'll take it week by week."
Van Zyl was in the fourth group out but 33 players will have to return for an 0630 shotgun start on Friday after the threat of lightning brought an early end to the day's play.
Starting on the tenth, Van Zyl birdied his first and the 13th before back-to-back gains on the 15th and 16th saw him turn in 32. A further birdie came on the first and was then followed by an eagle on the par five second to move him to seven under and a two-shot lead.
Norris was one of those two shots back after he birdied the 11th and 12th before an eagle on the 15th catapulted him up the leaderboard. Another birdie came on the 17th but a shot was given back on the next as he turned in 32.
A birdie on the first got him back on track before a dropped shot on the fourth and a birdie on the fifth had him five under through 14 holes.
But he would soon have a share of the lead as he picked up a birdie despite a wayward tee shot on the eighth and Van Zyl dropped his only shot of the day on the seventh after a chip from an awkward lie on the edge of the green.
Van Zyl responded in impressive fashion, though, putting his approach on the eighth to three feet and moving back ahead.
"The first couple of holes today, there was not a breath of wind, it was nice and cool, so you really needed to capitalise on the first couple of holes," he said. "By the time we got to our eighth hole the wind really started picking up and it was warming up a little bit, so it just got so much tougher out there.
"It really felt good out there today. I felt very comfortable and there was not too much rust."
The afternoon conditions proved to be more difficult with South African duo Keith Horne and Jbe Kruger posting the best scores among the late starters with a pair of 67s.
Horne started with back-to-back birdies before dropping a shot on the fourth but made further gains on the fifth and ninth. He dropped a shot on the 12th but picked up four shots in as many holes from the 14th with an eagle and two birdies to get within one of the lead before registering a closing bogey.
Kruger was flawless in his effort, picking up shots on the 15th, 16th, 17th, second and fourth.
Two-time champion Goosen was then at four under after eight birdies and two double-bogeys in a remarkable round, alongside Daniel Brooks, Estanislao Goya, Ross McGowan, Justin Walters and David Drysdale, who had three holes to play.
There was then a large group of players at three under including World Number 14 Branden Grace and rookies Nino Bertasio and Laurie Canter.
Tournament host Els had found himself three over after 14 holes but went birdie-eagle on the seventh and eighth before a missed short putt on the ninth dropped him to one over.
Defending champion Andy Sullivan endured a difficult day as he fired a three over 75 in his first round defending a European Tour title.
He opened with a birdie but double-bogeyed the second before getting up and down for another gain on the eighth. Back-to-back bogeys came on the 13th and 14th, the latter seeing a full 360 degree lip out, before a shot was picked up on the next.
But a four-putt on the par three 17th resulted in a second double bogey of the day and a disappointing start for the Englishman.
Paul Dunne pulled out of the event due to illness while Nicolas Colsaerts and Richard Finch retired during the first round with respective shoulder and Achilles injuries.