Fabrizio Zanotti carded an eight-under-par 64 to lead the South African Open after the first day of competition at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates.
The 25-year-old Paraguayan, who finished tied for 21st at the world’s second oldest Open championship last year, is one shot ahead of Swede Oskar Henningsson.
Zanotti’s highest position in only his second season on the European Tour was a tie for 12th place at the Methorios Capital Italian Open in May, but he showed little sign of his inexperience in Paarl with four birdies on the front nine taking him around in 32 strokes.
He began the back nine with a bogey, but showed increasing maturity by fighting back with five birdies in his next eight holes to end a shot clear of the field.
Eight players are two shots off the pace including South African Rory Sabbatini, playing in his first home Open, and Englishman Lee Westwood.
The others on six under par are Keith Horne, Jaco van Zyl, Ake Nilsson, Ross McGowan, Richie Ramsey and Gareth Maybin.
World number 10 Westwood, who played alongside Masters champion Trevor Immelman and last week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Richard Sterne in an afternoon tee-off, was faultless through his first 18 holes and admitted afterwards that he could not have asked for a better start.
“I played pretty solidly and all good pretty much,” he said. “I drove the ball lovely and missed just one fairway at the second by about four feet.
“I was aggressive with the golf course and hit a lot of drivers and irons. I like the golf course and I’ve always liked playing Jack (Nicklaus) courses. You can play them conservatively, but you obviously don’t have the opportunities to attack the flag.
“So if you have a good, straight driver then you can get an advantage. I did that today and putted quite nicely and made the ones that mattered.”
Sabbatini said: “All things considered, it’s a great day out there. I’m really feeling good at the moment.
“The course is in great condition and really prepared nicely and set up nicely. There are some low scores out there if you can control the golf ball.”
Four-time champion Ernie Els and two-time winner Tim Clark were among a group of five players to finish on five under par, with Englishman Justin Rose and South African Immelman a further two shots back.
Swede Henrik Stenson, the highest ranked player in the 156-man field, ended his day on two under along with home favourite Retief Goosen and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy’s countryman Darren Clarke was one of few big names to suffer in the opening round. Five bogeys and three birdies saw him finish on two over.