McIlroy makes encouraging start in South Africa

Rory McIlroy has made an encouraging start at the South African Open as he continues his bid to remain in the world's top 50.

Rory McIlroy has made an encouraging start at the South African Open as he continues his bid to remain in the world's top 50.

The Co Down golfer fired a 70 today to finish his opening round on two under par, six adrift of early leader Fabrizio Zanotti.

McIlroy's fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey also ended his round on two under par, while Gareth Maybin was five under par after 11 holes.

Damien McGrane was two under par after 12 holes, Gary Murphy was one over par after 15 and Darren Clarke had a poor start after his five bogeys and three birdies saw him finish on two over par.

Zanotti's eight-under-par round of 64 left him a shot clear of the field.

The Paraguayan, whose highest position on the European Tour was a share of 12th at the Italian Open in May, carded nine birdies and a bogey to lead from Oskar Henningsson – the Swede completing round one at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates with a 65.

Five players started with 66s to stay two shots behind the leader, including home trio Rory Sabbatini, Keith Horne and Jaco van Zyl along with Ake Nilsson from Sweden and early pace-setter Ross McGowan.

Four-time champion Ernie Els and two-time winner Tim Clark were among a group of four players to finish on five under par, with English pair Justin Rose and Lee Westwood a further two strokes back – the world number 10 only being halfway through his round.

Els said: “I played well on the front nine. It was really looking good, and the wind was blowing this

morning when we started off and then it died away. I hit one of my worst tee shots of the year on two.

“The 67 is a pretty good score, but conditions right now are perfect. You’re going to see a lot of low scores.

“I could have been lower. I was trying to get lower but that one tee shot cost me.”

Henrik Stenson, who comes into the competition after back-to-back wins at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup and the Nedbank Golf Challenge, ended his day on two under par along with McIlroy.

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