East London, South Africa (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Phelan and Matt Ford fired matching 5-under 67s in Sunday's first round and they share a 1-shot lead at the Africa Open.
Both Phelan and Ford are seeking their first career victory on the European Tour. Phelan just missed out on a win last week at the Joburg Open, settling for a tie for second with four others behind Andy Sullivan.
It is a crowded leaderboard through one round at East London Golf Club, as 22 players are within three shots of the lead. Richard Bland, David Howell, John Parry, Neil Schietekat and Eduardo de la Riva are all one shot behind the leaders after opening up with 4-under 68s.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, Gregory Havret, Tom Lewis, Oliver Bekker, Trevor Fisher Jr. and Chris Lloyd carded 3-under 69s, putting them two shots behind Phelan and Ford. They are tied for eighth.
Sullivan, who has two wins in South Africa this season at last week's Joburg Open and the South African Open Championship in early January, shot an even- par 72, tying him for 44th with 27 others.
Phelan, who started on No. 9, did not begin his round too well. Following a pair of pars on nine and 10, the 24-year-old tripped to a bogey on No. 11. That was the last blemish on his card, however.
The Irishman rolled in three straight pars from 12 before pouring in back-to- back birdies on 15 and 16, getting him into red numbers for the first time. Phelan made the turn with two more pars on 17 and 18.
On the front nine, his back, Phelan really turned up the heat, starting with a birdie on one. He rattled off a trio of pars from two and then drained three straight birdies from five, giving Phelan the outright lead at 5-under.
Phelan made one more par on eight to finish up his round. As a part of the morning pairings, Phelan held the outright clubhouse lead at the time.
"I was really happy with it. I played nicely and only had one bogey," Phelan said. "I took advantage of opportunities I had and any time I was close to a green I made it up and down. That's where all the birdies came from."
Then came Ford, who teed off at a later time. Also starting on No. 9, Ford rolled in six straight pars to start his round before making three birdies in a four-hole stretch on 15, 16 and 18. The Englishman made the turn at 3-under.
Ford went on cruise control for a bit, making five more pars from one. Back- to-back birdies on six and seven had Ford deadlocked with Phelan atop the leaderboard. Ford finished with a par on eight to complete his bogey-free round.
"I'm very happy. I had no bogeys today, and I think it's the first time this year that I've had no bogeys, so that will keep a couple of people at home happy," said Ford. "It was very tough. You're trying to judge the wind and get it close. There were a couple of pins out there that were on the wrong side of the green for the direction of the wind. You couldn't get it close and on some holes anywhere near the green was good."
NOTES: Out of the players inside the top 13, only four have won on the European Tour. Howell has won five times, Havret has won three, while Parry and Lewis each have one victory ... Defending champion Thomas Aiken is playing in Miami at the WGC-Cadillac Championship this week.