Keith Horne shot an opening 67 at Royal Portrush Golf Club, leading the South African charge at the Irish Open when he took an early hold on second.
He finished tied 12th at the BMW International Open last week, and on Thursday Horne confidently played his way to five-under-par, which set him one stroke behind early leader Mark Foster.
After his win at the Telkom PGA Championship, Horne felt ready for European Tour success. His Thursday round at Portrush set up his campaign in Ireland and, should he continue to play well, a top finish is surely around the corner.
A further two shots back and at three-under-par was Jbe Kruger. Starting at the 10th, the youngster made two straight birdies, but a bogey at the 13th slowed his pace and he went on to sign for 69.
Kruger took his maiden European Tour title at the Avantha Masters early in the year. He has been quiet on the golfing scene of late, but has the game to seal a second victory should the opportunity arise.
2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner Garth Mulroy flew across the pond after having little success in America. His first-round 70 showed that the he has overcome the jetlag, but he needs to go low tomorrow if he wants to keep the frontrunners in sight.
Richard Sterne also reached the clubhouse at two-under. Two drops on the front nine limited his chances at success, but Sterne did well to cover his second loop in 34 and eventually take an early share of 36th.