Johannesburg, South Africa (SportsNetwork.com) - Jbe Kruger and Andy Sullivan fired matching, 6-under 66s Thursday and they share a 1-shot lead after the first round of the South African Open Championship.
Kruger, a South African who finished runner-up alongside Hennie Otto at this event last year, has just one win on the European Tour and that was at the 2012 Avantha Masters. Sullivan has never won on tour.
Five-time champion and three-time runner-up Ernie Els continued his strong play on his home soil as he carded a 5-under 67 at Glendower Golf Club. Els is tied for third place with compatriot Richard Sterne and Lasse Jensen.
Charl Schwartzel and Colin Nel join a group of five South African's within the top 10. Schwartzel and Nel are tied for sixth with Jordi Garcia Pinto and David Drysdale at 4-under 68.
Defending champion Morten Orum Madsen shot a 1-over 73 and he is tied for 59th.
Kruger had a sound day on the course as he went bogey-free in his first round. Following a par at the first, Kruger poured in his first birdie on the par-5 second. He then rattled off six straight pars from No. 3 before finishing off the front nine with his second gain on No. 9.
Making the turn at minus-2, Kruger made back-to-back pars on 10 and 11 before rolling in three birdies in a four-hole stretch on 12, 13 and 15. Kruger closed things out with a pair of pars on 16 and 17 before making a birdie at the last to claim the outright lead at the time.
"I think it's probably the greens. The greens are extremely perfect," said Kruger. "I'm putting better. I don't think a golfer is ever satisfied with how he putts, but I'm putting better."
However, Sullivan came roaring up the leaderboard late. A birdie on two from Sullivan was wiped out by a double-bogey on five, but that was his only blemish on the day. Sullivan closed out his front nine with gains on eight and nine, putting him at 1-under.
After pars on 10 and 11, Sullivan exploded with a trio of birdies from 12 and a chip-in eagle on the par-5 15th, vaulting the Englishman into a share of the lead. Sullivan finished with a trio of pars from 16.
"I have to say this course is so difficult with the rough up and the greens, a few tricky pins out there today," Sullivan said. "Really happy with 6-under. Got a bit of a run in there and found myself at 6-under so it was nice to be in that position."
Els, playing in the early groups, held the early lead before Kruger and Sullivan caught up. Els made three birdies on the front nine on two, five and nine, making the turn at minus-3.
The 45-year-old tripped to a bogey on 12, but he responded nicely with birdies on 13, 14 and 16 before ending with a pair of pars.
"That was nice," Els said about his round. "I was a little nervous here and there but it was so nice to play Glendower in front of my home crowd ... We have had a nice start now and I want to keep it up, get better on the greens a little more and see where we end up."
Jensen wrapped six birdies around one bogey in his round, while Sterne made bogeys on four and 10 to go along with seven birdies, five of which came on the back nine.
NOTES: Els' last win came at the 2013 BMW International Open. His last victory here came in 2011 ... A player from South Africa has won this event 11 of the last 14 years ... At one point, five South Africans (Kruger, Els, Nel, Erik van Rooyen and Michael Hollick) were all tied for the lead on Thursday ... First-round play was delayed for a little over an hour due to threatening thunder and lightning.