JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A late afternoon charge gave Matthew Nixon an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead in the first round of the South African Open on Thursday, the start of the 2014 European Tour.
Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel are also in early contention at their home tournament.
Nixon was one of the last players to finish, but the Englishman ended with birdie, eagle, par to knock Italy’s Marco Crespi and South African Jbe Kruger off the top of the leaderboard at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg.
Goosen began with a 66 to tie for third at 6 under, while Schwartzel shot 67. Schwartzel’s younger brother, Attie, a pro on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, matched his more famous sibling to also share sixth place at 5 under par.
Goosen is still recovering from back surgery in 2012 that wiped out most of his last two seasons, and made steady progress on Thursday with seven birdies and just one dropped shot at the par-3 No. 6.
“Six under any day is pretty good,” the 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open champion said. “It was nice to finish off good, too. I’m feeling good. I’m going after the ball a little bit now so getting some consistency going.”
Now 44, Goosen hasn’t won a tournament since March 2009.
Charl Schwartzel, fresh off a victory in China on the OneAsia Tour last month, had five birdies and no drops in his 67, while Attie Schwartzel carded seven birdies and two bogeys.
South African Christiaan Basson set the early pace, adding four birdies and an eagle to a string of pars in a 66. Crespi and Kruger overtook that, with both players on fire in their opening nines to pick up four straight birdies from No. 12 through 15 and move a shot ahead.
Nixon jumped into the lead at the very end, though, after opening with four birdies in his first five holes and then finishing as strongly with an eagle on the par-5 No. 8, his 17th.
Former British Open champion David Duval was 2 over after opening with a 74. Europe Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was 3 over.
The new tour schedule teed off in the eastern suburbs of South Africa’s biggest city just four days after Henrik Stenson won the 2013 European money list and season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.