Tjaart Van der Walt grabs lead in France

Tjaart Van der Walt carded a 4-under 67 on Thursday and grabbed a 1-stroke lead through the opening round of the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open, which is being played opposite the U.S. Open in the United States.

Van der Walt, who is coming off a tie for 25th at last week's Lyoness Open, countered five birdies against his lone bogey at windy Aa Saint Omer Golf Club.

"I managed the ball really well today," said the 38-year-old South African, who is seeking his first European Tour win. "I have been doing that well the last few weeks, but the putting hasn't been great. I holed a few putts today, which was good."

France's Victor Riu is alone in second place after closing his opening-round 68 with a pair of birdies and an eagle. Daniel Brooks occupies third courtesy of a 2-under-par 69.

Daniel Gaunt and Olivier Rozner both carded 70s to share fourth, while Frenchmen Edouard Dubois and Thomas Fournier are among a group of nine players who shot even par.

Van der Walt went out with the morning wave from the 10th tee and opened with seven consecutive pars before notching back-to-back birdies from the 17th.

"I made a nice one on 17, from about 30 feet and downhill which broke about six feet, and another at 18 too, but credit to the greenkeepers because they slowed the greens down a little and if they didn't do that there would be putts going off the green in that wind," said Van der Walt.

"It meant you could be a bit more aggressive, although you still have to watch out because they are quick. You still just have to hit good shots around here and it's down to your putting then."

Around the turn, Van der Walt reached 3-under with a gain at the second before quickly giving back that stroke with a bogey at the par-4 third.

The South African bounced back, however, recording birdies at the sixth and ninth to hit the clubhouse with a lead which held through the afternoon.

"I didn't play this event last year, but I like it here and if you play well here anything is possible so I'm going to try and do that and we'll see what happens," Van der Walt said.

NOTES: Van der Walt's best finish on the European Tour this season is a tie for fifth at the Africa Open in February ... Dawie Van Der Walt is the only 2013 winner in the field. He won the Tshwane Open in March ... The winner of this event receives a 1-year exemption to the European Tour. Co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Challenge Tour, this is the only dual-ranking tournament of the 2013 season on the European Tour.