Defending champion Lee Westwood birdied the last hole to shoot a 4-under 68 and share the first-round lead with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel at the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Thursday.
The third-ranked Westwood holed a putt from nearly 20 feet on No. 18 for his fourth birdie. The Englishman also had an eagle three on No. 9 and two bogeys.
Schwartzel unleashed a birdie blitz on the back nine at Gary Player Country Club, picking up five shots over seven holes after reaching the turn at 1 over.
Top-ranked Luke Donald was the early leader on his return to competition after a five-week break, but a double-bogey 6 on No. 17 gave him a 70 and a tie for fourth alongside five other players.Robert Karlsson of Sweden was alone in third after shooting 69.
Simon Dyson, fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer, South Korea’s Kyung-tae Kim, Graeme McDowell and PGA Championship runner-up Jason Dufner were tied with Donald at 2 under.
Most of the 12-man field at the $5 million invitational event struggled through the second nine after a brief rain shower, but Westwood and Schwartzel made late rallies to top the leaderboard.
Westwood set up a strong finish when he landed a 5-iron within 6 feet on the par-five No. 9 and rolled in his eagle putt. He followed up with birdies on Nos. 10, 15 and 18.
“It was nice to hole that one at the last,” Westwood said. “I had it in the back of my mind that Charl was on 4 under and I wanted to be in the last group.
“I played lovely. Nice to make one-putt at the last from about 18 feet because I hadn’t made any all day. But tee to green was brilliant.”
Schwartzel double-bogeyed No. 9, pushing his tee shot into the right rough and then sending his third into the water in front of the green. But he had birdies at Nos. 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 to come home in just 31 strokes.
“Turning 1 over, I wasn’t happy with myself,” Schwartzel said. “I felt like I was playing better than that. And sometimes that’s what you need to kick on. I just started firing at the flags. I probably got fearless.”
Playing for the first time since his blistering finish at Disney World to clinch the PGA Tour’s money list title, the top-ranked Donald had five birdies and a single bogey in a solid round through 16 holes.
But he put his tee shot on No. 17 into the water on the left of the fairway and emerged with a six to drop to 70 in his first competitive round in more than a month.
Dufner had five birdies and three bogeys in his Sun City debut.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari chipped in for an eagle three on No. 2 but faded with four bogeys for a 72 and a tie for 10th with Denmark’s Anders Hansen.
British Open champion Darren Clarke was the only player over par with a 74.