DURBAN, South Africa -- Thongchai Jaidee shot a 7-under 65 to take a three-stroke lead on the opening day of the Volvo Champions on Thursday.
Jaidee birdied six of his first 10 holes to end the day three shots ahead of two of South Africa's major winners, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.
VOLVO GOLF CHAMPIONS
The Volvo Golf Champions originated in Bahrain in 2011, but moved to South Africa in 2012.
Els, a two-time South African Open winner on this same Durban Country Club course, showed his fondness for the layout on the Indian Ocean shoreline with birdies on his first three holes. Then he double-bogeyed the fourth and finished with a 4-under 68. Oosthuizen finished out with three birdies in his 68.
Retief Goosen, who lost in a playoff a year ago, returned to competition after a five-month layoff following back surgery to shoot an even-par 72.
Jaidee, the former Thai paratrooper qualified for the 33-strong winners-only field by capturing the Wales Open in the wind and rain last June, and again showed his prowess in the gusty conditions. He raced to the turn in 5-under 31 and had three more birdies on the back nine with just a lone bogey at 17.
"I'm very happy with that. I enjoy the course," said the 43-year-old Jaidee. "You have to think a lot – I hit the driver on only two holes and I put a 3-iron in my bag only 15 minutes before we teed off."
Defending champion Branden Grace, who won this title at Fancourt 12 months ago, had a disappointing day, a 3-over 75 leaving him in tied 25th and 10 shots off the lead.
Ryder Cup winner Paul Lawrie is in a seven-man group tied for fourth on 3 under while Europe's two most recent captains, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, shot level-par 72 and 2-over 74 respectively.
Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey looked set to be Jaidee's nearest challenger after reaching 4 under with three to play. But he blocked his drive at the 16th and then had another double bogey on the 273-yard last after losing a ball in bushes.
Hoey came up with an unusual explanation for his bad finish.
"I felt so bloated," said the former British amateur champion, winner last March of the Hassan Trophy in Morocco. "I drank so much yesterday (when it was much hotter) and did the same, but I lost so much concentration. It was weird -- I couldn't swing it properly."
Padraig Harrington began his 2013 with a 70, but Paul Casey – the winner of this event two years ago but unable to defend last year after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding – could do no better than 74 and Darren Clarke was one worse than that.
Meanwhile, Els could not believe his eyes when Europe's biggest hitter Nicolas Colsaerts launched a drive of 419 yards at the downwind third hole.
"I've been coming here since 1986 I think and I've never seen a ball there, nobody has," Els said. "They should put a plaque down.