Richard Sterne (Getty Images)
Germany’s Maximilian Kieffer and South African Richard Sterne began the Joburg Open with eight under par rounds of 63 on Royal Johannesburg & Kensington’s West Course to share the first round lead.
Former winner Sterne, who started with a 62 in Dubai last week before finishing second to Stephen Gallacher, had six birdies and a chip-in eagle at the ninth.
Kieffer was also bogey-free with eight birdies, and both players now face three rounds on the tougher East Course; not that 31 year old Sterne is fazed by the prospect.
Speaking of his victory here in 2008 the five-time European Tour winner said: “I had three good rounds around the East Course that year. If I can do that now I’ll have a chance on Sunday.”
Sterne’s 2008 victory was the start of a clean sweep of the three co-sanctioned European Tour and Sunshine Tour events that winter, but a back injury ravaged his 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
“Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens,” he added. “Golf is strange – you’ve got to hit the right kind of shots at the right time.
“I hit 17 greens today, so I was never really in trouble at all.”
Challenge Tour graduate Kieffer continued his impressive start to his rookie campaign, having already finished tied for fourth in Durban and tied for 17th in Dubai.
“When you come from the Challenge Tour everyone says that you have enough to play out here, but you still want to prove it,” said Kieffer.
“It’s a new world and you don’t really know what to expect, so I’m happy that it went pretty good so far.
“That round was great. I’ve been playing well the last few weeks and I just tried to stay positive on the golf course, and luckily today was another good round.”
He and Sterne were briefly joined on eight under by another rookie, Norwegian Espen Kofstad, but the 25 year old triple bogeyed the last to finish on five under.
South Africa’s Bryce Easton had a hole-in-one en route to posting an East Course-best 65, which gave him third place on seven under.
“It’s one of those things – you don’t think about it when you’re playing the hole, but when it goes in it takes a couple of seconds to realise that it’s actually disappeared,” said Easton.
Defending champion Branden Grace and two-time winner Charl Schwartzel were also on the East Course on day one, but while former Masters Tournament winner Schwartzel opened with a four under 68, Grace could only produce a level par 72.