Jamie Elson (Getty Images)
England’s Jamie Elson proved his Qualifying School heroics were no fluke as he stormed into a share of the first round lead at the Joburg Open.
The 30 year old holed a 40 foot birdie putt on the final green in Girona to secure a European Tour return for 2012, and followed that up with an eight under par 63 over Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s West Course.
That matched the earlier effort of Ireland's Damien McGrane, who managed to reach the clubhouse before thunderstorms halted play.
In total around four hours were lost because of the threat of lightning, with some players unable to complete their rounds before darkness set in as a result.
But after five birdies in his first six holes Elson came out and picked up two shots in his last three holes on resumption.
“I had just hit a good shot on 16, the par three, and there was a strong downwind,” he said.
“With the water short it was a pretty good shot and left myself with an eight footer when I resumed play. I managed to knock that in and then finished well.
“I got off to a flyer. I birdied the first, second, third and then chipped in at the fourth.
“I had a good year here last year – I think I shot six-under on the second day at the hard course, so if I can do that again it would be nice.”
McGrane carded five birdies in a flawless front nine 31, before the 40 year old - whose only European Tour title came at the Volvo China Open four years ago - collected two further gains and chipped in for an eagle on the 15th.
The only blemish on his scorecard came at the 18th with a bogey five, but he still sat alongside Elson with a one shot advantage over Dutchman Reinier Saxton and South Africans Desvonde Botes and Peter Karmis.
Botes carded a seven under 65 on the East Course, which made him the only player in the top ten playing the tougher course.
His effort matched the 64s of Saxton and Karmis, with six players a shot further back on six under.
“I am delighted to be in a good position after round one,” said McGrane. “For the last three or four years Irish golf has been quite incredible, and I think we feed off each other. For a small nation it sure is great to be there or thereabouts.
“I stacked up a few birdies during the round, but that eagle really turned my round.
“I played beautifully from start to finish, and this course does give up opportunities. The greens and weather were perfect, so if you’re on your game there are birdie chances. Needless to say you have to make the chances and today I holed a few nice putts.
“I hit plenty of fairways and holed a few nice putts for birdie, it was just the bogey at the last which was disappointing. Apart from that it was a perfect round of golf.”
Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel, looking for a third straight win in the event, was level par with three holes left to play.
If the South African makes it a hat-trick he would become one of only six players, alongside Ian Woosnam, Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.