The four-time major winner gave the crowds at Glendower Golf Club a reason to smile when he opened the €1-million tournament with a round of 67, thereby declaring his intent to contend.
“Today was a great start, but tomorrow is a new day and you have to keep building. A real boost of confidence only comes from a win. That’s why we’re here, but you can’t be thinking about it all the time,” he said.
Jbe Kruger picked up the trail and on Thursday he carded an impeccable 66 to set the round one pace at six-under. He made his final birdie of the day at the 18th to walk off tied for the lead.
The Bloemfontein local shared second at his national open last year after shooting a Sunday 65 at Glendower. On Thursday he was glad to start his 2015 campaign in style, especially after the festive break.
“I think this is probably the perfect start. When you have a couple of weeks off you can’t ask for a better start just to get the confidence back up and going.
“Last year I had a bad second or third round and wasn’t in with a chance, but I shot 65 on the final day. This time I’d like to just be in with a shout, just be in contention,” he said.
Dangerous weather forced a delay in play at 15h36 and rain softened the greens, which meant the afternoon field managed to score well.
England’s Andy Sullivan took advantage of the opportunity and carded 31 on the back nine to tie the lead of six-under-par. The world number 159 punctuated his round with six birdies and an eagle.
“I’ve had a history of not doing well after weather delays, so it was nice to get back out there and do what I did.
“I made eagle on the 15th, but I actually missed the fairway there. I drew some sort of good lie in the rough and got it to the front edge with a rescue. As soon as I hit my chip it checked up on the third bounce started tracking. Nice when they come off,” he said.
One stroke shy of the leaders was Els, who shared third place with countryman Richard Sterne and Denmark’s Lasse Jensen.
Spain’s Jordi Garci Pinto wrapped the day in four-under-par 68 to share sixth with David Drysdale, Colin Nel and Charl Schwartzel.