Gauteny, South Africa (SportsNetwork.com) - England's Matthew Nixon fired an 8-under-par 64 on Thursday to grab a 1-stroke lead after the opening round of the South African Open Championship.
Nixon, ranked 417th in the world, mixed an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey at Glendower Golf Club for the early advantage at the European Tour's 2013-14 season-opening event.
"I went out there with an open mind and then kept hitting it close and knocking the putts in," he said. "I putted really well."
Marco Crespi and South African Jbe Kruger carded matching 7-under 65s to share second place, while Kruger's compatriots Retief Goosen and Christiaan Basson both shot 66s to end 18 holes tied for fourth.
Another South African, Charl Schwartzel, the highest-ranked player in the field at world No. 22, carded a 67. The 2011 Masters champion shares sixth place with Andrea Pavan, Atti Schwartzel and Morten Orum Madsen.
"It means a lot, I'd love to win the South African Open," said Charl Schwartzel, who is seeking his first victory at this tournament. "I did my preparation and figured out the way I want to play the golf course and it worked today. I've always had really good results in the South African Open, come close a few times. I reckon it's one of those where you have to keep at it and keep playing and it will come eventually."
David Frost, Simon Dyson, Warren Abery, Wade Ormsby, Steve Surry, Daan Huizing, Danie Van Tonder and Tom Lewis are tied for 10th at 4-under 68.
Nixon, who tied for second at the M2M Russian Open last season, started on the 10th tee and birdied four of his first five holes before adding another gain at the 17th to turn in 31.
He stumbled to a bogey at the second, but closed strong, notching birdies at Nos. 3 and 7 and an eagle at the par-5 eighth to grab the lead.
"I tried to just take it one shot at a time today and not worry about what was going on around me or what score I was going to shoot," he said. "If I can keep doing that, it will stand me in good stead."
Crespi also started on the 10th tee and he too enjoyed a strong start, reeling off four straight birdies from the 12th. The Italian birdied again at the second and, after carding his lone bogey at the fifth, went eagle-birdie from the par-4 seventh to wrap up his opening round in style.
Kruger went off the first tee and opened with a birdie before reeling off six straight pars. He added an eagle at the eighth and parred the ninth before tripping to a bogey at No. 10.
Like the other contenders, Kruger made a move on Glendower's back nine, as the 2012 Avantha Masters winner tallied five birdies in a six-hole span from the 12th to move near the top of the leaderboard after the opening day.
NOTES: Nixon and Crespi are both seeking their first European Tour win. Crespi is a two-time winner on the Challenge Tour ... Basson is two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, which is co-sanctioning this tournament ... South Africans have won this event 11 of the last 13 years: Hennie Otto (2011), Ernie Els (2006, '10), Richard Sterne (2008), James Kingston (2007), Goosen (2005), Tim Clark (2002, '05), Trevor Immelman (2003-04) and Mark McNulty (2001) ... Next to the British Open, this is the oldest national championship ... Last year's champion Henrik Stenson is not in the field this week. He won both the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup and the European Tour's Race to Dubai in 2013.