“It’s sad to lose Madiba, not only for South Africa, but for the world,” said Garcia. “He was such a great man and did so many great things for humanity. He was someone to look up to.”
The Spaniard includes the 2001 and 2003 Nedbank Golf Challenge to his tally of 24 professional wins and took steps towards a third title with his opening 66 at Gary Player Country Club.
The first round was suspended at 4.18pm on Thursday afternoon due to thunderstorms, which meant Garcia had to complete the back nine early on Friday morning. The break served him well – he tore through the second loop in 31 strokes with birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, and 17th.
He bogeyed the fourth hole ahead of the storm delays on Thursday, but his play after that was flawless as he attacked the pins and made his putts to continue the impressive form he has showed in the build-up to the tournament.
Garcia, while casual about his impressive six-under-par round, was moved by the passing of Madiba.
“He’s passed away, but I’m sure he’s looking down on us and making sure that we stay on track,” he said.
Garcia had a one-stroke lead over Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, Wales’ Jamie Donaldson and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, with former world number one Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel sharing fifth on four-under-par. World number three Henrik Stenson, one of the favourites for the tournament, carded an opening three-under-par 69 together with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.