Scenic setting: World No2 Rory McIlroy tees off at the SA Open’s par four 12th hole at Glendower Golf Club on Thursday morning. Picture: MICHAEL SHERMAN
Scenic setting: World No2 Rory McIlroy tees off at the SA Open’s par four 12th hole at Glendower Golf Club on Thursday morning. Picture: MICHAEL SHERMAN

He is no stranger to the top of the leaderboard but this time SA’s Keith Horne hopes he can stay the course across four rounds of the SA Open.

Late on Thursday, Horne joined early pacesetter and countryman Trevor Fisher Jr at the head of the field on six-under to hold a one shot advantage over favourite Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy‚ South Africans Thomas Aiken‚ Dean Burmeister and Jbe Kruger‚ and England’s Jordan Smith.

Horne‚ who also led after the first round in 2016 and had set the pace at December’s Alfred Dunhill Championships before fading‚ hopes his form will linger until late Sunday afternoon.

"I think that final round at Leopard Creek was the most disappointing in 20 years as a professional. I had played so well and to do that was really disappointing. It is nice to be back in the mix. Hopefully I can put four good rounds together."

Not that his 66 was all plain sailing. Horne found only four fairways with his driver.

"It was just rhythm. A bit of Christmas pudding to get rid of. I think with the longer club my timing was just way out. I kept missing it right. I found my rhythm with the irons early on."

His shot game was on song too and helped him reel in Fisher Jr. In largely pleasant scoring conditions Fisher Jr put down an early marker with a round that included six birdies on the front nine before losing some steam on the inward holes.

Playing out of nearby Modderfontein Golf Club‚ Fisher Jr’s knowledge of local conditions would have stood him in good stead but he will need no reminding that McIlroy effortlessly constructed his round despite relatively limited intelligence of what the course and conditions might throw at him.

As it turned out McIlroy fired a five-under 67 before promising he could go better if the favourable conditions persisted.

Rain is‚ however‚ forecast for Friday and Saturday. If anything, however‚ the Ulsterman may benefit if things turn soggy.

Aiken showed no rust from a five-week lay-off to card a competitive total‚ while Burmeister believes the form with which he finished 2016 has survived end of year excesses.

When we all heard Rory was coming a lot of us put in extra work and it would be nice to go down the stretch with him come Sunday
Dean Burmeister

"It’s nice to keep the ball rolling‚" said Burmeister whose only blemish came at the 12th.

"I just made a bad swing on 12 and then I made this double bogey there but other than that it was a flawless round of golf and I’m pretty happy."

Burmeister laid bare what it meant to have a player of McIlroy’s stature in the field. "When we all heard Rory was coming a lot of us put in extra work and it would be nice to go down the stretch with him come Sunday."

Darren Fichardt also vacated the starters blocks in a rush and had shot out to five-under after eight holes. His round first showed signs of a wobble on the ninth‚ while drops on the 12th and the 13th further stunted his progress. His finishing birdie on the 18th was greeted with a loud cheer. He finished four-under.

Ernie Els shot 74 in a round that included three birdies and five drops. Defending champion Brandon Stone disappointed with the same score. Two double bogeys and a triple bogey featured in Retief Goosen’s round of 80.

TMG Digital

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