Tom McKibbin carded a bogey-free round of 70 to sit four shots off the lead after day one of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
McKibbin registered two birdies on the second and tenth, both par fives, and carded sixteen pars in a frustrating yet solid effort and he is well placed to tackle the lead shared by Ryder Cup stars Nicolai Hojgaard, Max Homa, Irish Open winner Vincent Normann and England’s Dan Bradbury.
Hojgaard was playing in his first DP World Tour event since helping Team Europe reclaim the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in September, but he showed no signs of fatigue as he mixed eight birdies with two dropped shots in Sun City.
The 22-year-old made his debut in the biennial event as Luke Donald’s team secured a 16 ½ – 11 ½ victory against the U.S. Team and maintained his fine form to set the early clubhouse lead at six under par at Gary Player Country Club.
He was soon joined by Dan Bradbury, who holed a lengthy eagle putt at the ninth – his last – to climb to the summit, before Sweden’s Vincent Norrman and American Max Homa signed flawless cards of 66.
“It was quite steady out there today. I felt like I hit a lot of fairways, quite conservatively off the tee – a lot of five woods and three woods today to keep them in play and try and work my way into the week,” Højgaard said.
“So I did that really well today and hit some quality iron shots, rolled in a few putts and then you shoot 66 round here, which I’m over the moon to shoot 66.”
Bradbury started the season in rich vein by securing his first DP World Tour title at the Joburg Open last November on only his third start as a professional and clearly feels at home in South Africa.
“Just a very solid day. Got off to a good start, a few birdies early on and dropped one, which kind of annoyed me, so I had a bit of a point to prove after that, and obviously that finish was quite nice,” he said.
“If you just hit fairways, because of the altitude it doesn’t play that long, so you give yourself a lot of chances.”
Norrman, who is playing in Sun City for the first time, maintained his ominous form which has yielded his maiden two DP World Tour titles in the last four months.
“It was a lot of fun out there. It got pretty hot, but really enjoyed this place,” the Swede said.
“I feel like if you stay aggressive off the tee, hit a lot of drivers and if you hit a lot of fairways then you have plenty of chances. It’s quite tight in certain spots, but we hit it good off the tee today. I think just play aggressive and see what happens.”
Højgaard got off to a poor start after missing a par putt within one foot on the opening hole, but responded immediately at the next with his first birdie of the day.
He added gains at the fourth and fifth, but dropped his second shot of the round when he failed to find the green from the bunker at the par-three seventh.
Birdies at the ninth and tenth saw the Dane climb to the leaderboard summit at three under, where he was joined by Bradbury, Julien Guerrier, Adrian Otaegui, Connor Syme, Matthieu Pavon, Francesco Molinari, Shubhankar Sharma and Adrian Meronk in a nine-way tie for the lead.
Højgaard burst clear at the 13th with a gain, only for Meronk, Bradbury and Pavon to move alongside him at four under. However, the Dane dialled his tee-shot to ten feet at the par-three 16th before landing his approach to concessional range at the next to set the clubhouse lead at six under.
Bradbury briefly held the lead after six holes when the Englishman holed birdies at the tenth, 13th, 14th and 15th, but fell back into the leadership group of nine when dropping his only shot of the day at the 16th.
He tapped in a birdie to get to four under before holing a monster 75-foot putt at the ninth for an eagle three to join Højgaard as joint clubhouse leader, but they were not alone for long.
Norrman picked up his first shot at the sixth from eight feet before successive birdies at the turn saw him move into contention.
The Swede rattled in back-to-back gains from the 13th to sit one adrift of the leading duo and when holed his birdie effort from 18 feet at the 16th, he was co-leader.
Homa, who was part of U.S. Ryder Cup Team in Rome, began his birdie trail from 27ft at the fourth and doubled his tally at the sixth from similar range.
The World Number Eight improved to three under at the ninth, but it was down the final stretch where he showcased his abilities. Another gain at the 14th saw him move to four under before missing another chance at the next.
He holed out from 21ft at the 16th for his fifth birdie, only to miss the chance to join the leaders at the next. However, he held his nerve with a testing 16-footer to finish his blemish-free round and make it four at the top on six under.
Meronk, who missed birdie opportunities at the last two holes, is one adrift alongside Guerrier and Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune, while Molinari, Sharma and Pavon sat at four under par with Dane Jeff Winther, Scot Richie Ramsay and Sweden’s Sebastian Söderberg.
Two-time defending champion Tommy Fleetwood found water at the last for a double bogey in his 71, while two-time U.S. PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas sits at level par.