Gauteny, South Africa – Jbe' Kruger and Steven O'Hara both under 65 on Thursday to share the opening-round lead of the South African Open Championship.
Two-time winner Retief Goosen, Tyrone Mordt, David Hewan and Merrick Bremner are knotted in third place at six-under 66 at Serengeti Golf Club.
Not surprisingly, six of the top-seven players on the leaderboard, with the exception being Scotland's O'Hara, are South Africans playing for their country's national championship.
"This is the SA Open, it's the biggest event for you when you grow up. Just to take it one shot at a time is the most important thing," said Kruger.
He began on the 10th tee Thursday and broke into red figures with a birdie at the par-five 11th. Kruger added another birdie at the 14th, then rattled off three straight birdies to close his opening nine.
Kruger made the turn at five-under par and picked up another birdie at the second. He parred four in a row until a seventh and final birdie at No. 7. Kruger parred his last two for a share of the lead.
"If you can hit it pin-high, you should be fine," Kruger said of the first- time lay-out. "If you go two yards left or right of the flag and it will break about 25 centimeters, so you have to stay on the right side of the slope."
Kruger has played well of late. He was the second-round leader last week at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, but back-to-back 73s on the weekend left him tied for ninth. Kruger knows he'll need to improve on his last two rounds if he's to earn a first European Tour victory this week.
"I was 13-under par through two rounds last week, and I might need two 65's, but I'm just going to take it one shot at a time," said Kruger.
O'Hara played brilliantly from the gate on Thursday. He birdied two of his first three holes, but dropped a shot at the par-four fourth. O'Hara birdied the seventh to get back on track, then eagled the par-five eighth to make the turn at minus-four.
The Scotsman parred No. 10 before he carded consecutive birdies at 11 and 12. O'Hara parred five in a row and got to seven-under par with a birdie at the finishing hole.
"I hit a lot of great shots. I had it inside 10 feet pretty much every hole and it felt like I could have made more birdies," said O'Hara. "It's all about accuracy with your second shot."
O'Hara needs a good week. He is 134th in the Race to Dubai and a top-four finish would get him his card for next year on the European Tour. A top five would get him into the field next week in Hong Kong, which is the last full- field tournament before the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
Another large contingency of South Africans highlight the group tied for seventh. Shaun Norris, Jean Hugo and last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Garth Mulroy joined Chile's Felipe Aguilar at five-under 67.
NOTES: This is the second time this event is being played on the 2011 European Tour schedule, although the first staging was in December of 2010, it counted toward the '11 schedule...Ernie Els won that title, his fifth at this event, and shot a three-under 69 on Thursday.