Guido Migliozzi turned in 30 to set a blistering pace on day one of the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
The Qualifying School graduate is looking to become the first player in European Tour history to win three times in their rookie season and he moved to six under after nine holes of the seventh Rolex Series event of the season.
Belgian Thomas Detry and Australian Jason Scrivener were two shots off the lead, one clear of Japan's Masahiro Kawamura.
There was then a group of nine players at three under including local hero Ernie Els.
Els got a rapturous reception as he went off in the first group of the day and he soon had the crowd cheering even more.
A wonderful pitch brought a gain on the par five second and after an excellent par save from the sand on the third, a 20 foot putt on the fifth put him in a share of the lead.
Scrivener was in that group after an eagle on the par five tenth and so was Migliozzi as he took advantage of the second and then hit an excellent tee shot into the par three fourth.
Migliozzi hit the front as he holed a similar putt to Els on the fifth but Scrivener joined him with a birdie on the 12th.
The leading duo were going toe to toe and Migliozzi put an approach to six feet at the sixth before Scrivener birdied the 13th.
A stunning tee shot to 18 inches at the seventh then made it four in a row for Migliozzi and he held the solo lead once more.
The Italian parred the eighth but hit a wonderful approach after laying up at the ninth and he led by two.
Detry made a birdie-birdie-birdie start from the tenth and then birdied the 14th in his first five holes.
Kawamura had gains on the 11th, 13th and 16th in his first seven.