SUN CITY, South Africa — South African player Jaco van Zyl overcame the nerves attached to his Nedbank Golf Challenge debut to ensure some local representation at the top of the leaderboard as he closed the first round at Sun City level with Henrik Stenson.
Van Zyl was more accustomed to watching the event, but on Thursday he birdied three of the last five holes to finish with a flawless 6-under 66 that was matched by Stenson.
England's Danny Willett ended the day in third after shooting 67, while South African Branden Grace and Australia's Mark Leishman were a further shot back in fourth.
"I watch two events on TV each year — the Masters and this — so waking up this morning, instead of making sure the beers and the biltong were ready, I had to make sure my shoes were polished and my clubs were clean and go to work," Van Zyl said.
"On the first tee I could feel my heart beating in my throat. It didn't slow down for the first three holes but I managed to pick up a couple of quick birdies early on which settled the nerves a bit."
Sweden's Stenson had been doubtful for the tournament after an illness in the buildup, but brushed that off to birdie his first two holes and go into the turn on 5-under.
However, the 2008 champion wilted in the afternoon sun, missing a couple of opportunities to take the outright lead as he parred the last eight holes.
"I've been in bed with the flu for three days, and after I had to pull out of the pro-am on Tuesday I probably had a 5 percent chance of playing," he said. "I felt quite a bit better this morning and the doctor didn't see any reason why I couldn't play.
"I'm delighted with the score, but the last few holes I completely ran out of energy. From the 14th onwards my legs were like jelly and it was a real struggle."
Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, the two local headline acts, kept themselves in the running with a 70 and 71, respectively. Oosthuizen was tied for 10th, while Schwartzel was tied for 16th.
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