East London, South Africa (SportsNetwork.com) - Ricardo Santos fired a 9-under 62 on Thursday to claim the early lead at the Africa Open.
Santos is seeking his second career win on the European Tour. His first came at the 2012 Madeira Islands Open.
"I hit the ball solidly from the tee and my putting was all good. To shoot minus-9 you have to play awesome golf, so I'm really pleased with every piece of my game," said Santos. "I put the ball very close, didn't miss a fairway, and that's the key on this course."
Garth Mulroy, Rhys Davies, Richard Bland and Lucas Bjerregaard shared second place at East London Golf Club at 6-under 65, while defending champion Darren Fichardt is among a group of 18 players tied for 12th at 5-under 66.
Santos opened his bogey-free round with a pair of pars before rolling in a birdie at the third.
He converted three straight birdies from the fifth to make the turn at 4- under.
Santos pulled within a stroke of clubhouse leaders Mulroy, Davies and Bland with birdies at the 10th and 12th, and raced ahead with another hat trick of gains at the 15th, 16th and 17th.
He parred the last to finish at 9-under.
"I played really solidly today and gave myself a lot of chances for birdie, and I took a lot of those chances," stated Santos. "I'm very pleased to make a run like I did today."
Mulroy was the first of the group at 7-under to take the course and started on the back nine. He parred his first four holes before pouring in back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th. A bogey at the 16th dropped him back to 1-under at the turn.
The South African caught fire over his inward nine, converting birdie chances at the second, fourth, sixth and seventh around an eagle at the third to race to the top of the leaderboard.
"I played okay on my first nine, but only turned one-under. On the second nine, I made a few putts and got it going," Mulroy said.
Davies was the next on the course and countered an opening bogey with four birdies during each of his front and back nines to meet Mulroy at 7-under. Bland recorded five birdies and a eagle over his bogey-free round to claim his share of second place.
Bjerregaard, meanwhile, rolled in eight birdies over his first 17 holes to move within a shot of Santos' lead, but closed his round with a bogey at the 18th to finish two shots off the pace.
NOTES: Santos was the European Tour's Rookie of the Year in 2012 ... Santos has finished inside the top 30 in his last five events in South Africa ... This event is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour ... The other previous winner of this event in the field is 2008 champion Shaun Norris, who shot a 4-under 67 during his first round and sits in a tie for 30th place.