Rory McIlroy, left, and Brandon Stone shake hands during the first round of the 2017 BMW SA Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg on January 12 2017. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES
Rory McIlroy, left, and Brandon Stone shake hands during the first round of the 2017 BMW SA Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg on January 12 2017. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES

After an effortless opening round of five-under that left him just one behind early pace-setter Trevor Fisher Jr‚ Rory McIlroy sounded an ominous warning on Thursday. "I’m pleased with 67 but I feel if conditions are like that for the rest of the week I can definitely go lower‚" he said.

Earlier in the day (at 7.10am to be exact) the 10th fairway was lined with fans when McIlroy teed off in the first round of the SA Open. The masses came to see the former world No1 (now No2) — and the four-time Major winner didn’t disappoint. His round included seven birdies and two back-to-back bogeys on the par four fourth and fifth holes. It also featured a monster 392-yard (627m) drive on the first hole that had onlookers gushing.

He shares second place with South Africans Thomas Aiken and Dean Burmeister. Aiken showed no cobwebs after a five-week lay-off over the festive season. "I prepared for a week for this event but last year was a long year," Aiken said. "A lot of travel and I felt pretty tired. I’m in a good space mentally."

He closed with five birdies in a row. "Luckily I didn’t have to do too much with the putter. The greens are a little tricky because they’ve sped up since Tuesday," said Aiken.

It was a view shared by McIlroy. "I played on Tuesday but did nothing yesterday (Wednesday) and the greens have firmed up quite nicely. It took me by surprise in a couple of wedge shots I hit into the first couple of holes. It skipped on a little. It required a bit of adjustment," said McIlroy.

Burmeister’s round featured five birdies‚ an eagle on the 15th but, regrettably, also a double bogey on the par four 12th. Another Northern Irishman Darren Clarke carded a two-under 70‚ as did George Coetzee.

Tournament host Ernie Els shot 74 in a round that included three birdies and five dropped shots. Defending champion Brandon Stone also shot two over.

TMG Digital

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