Louis Oosthuizen during the first day of the SA Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, December 6 2018. Picture: SHAUN ROY/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES
Louis Oosthuizen during the first day of the SA Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, December 6 2018. Picture: SHAUN ROY/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES

He hardly looked up to check the leaderboard but by the time Louis Oosthuizen removed his cap for a handshake with his playing partners early on Thursday afternoon‚ he held a respectable lead after his opening round at the SA Open.

He blazed his way around the shorter but curvier Bushwillow layout‚ carding a blemish-free round of 62 that included nine birdies on the par-71 course.

His lead was‚ however‚ trimmed in the late afternoon to just one shot as American Kurt Kitayama negotiated the more demanding Firethorn layout in a tied course record 63.

Kitayama‚ last week’s winner of the Mauritius Open‚ has had an eventful few weeks, having come through qualifying school‚ underperforming in Hong Kong‚ and shooting a course record at Firethorn on Thursday.

“I’ve been riding that momentum and the putter has been really good so far‚” he said. Madalitso Muthiya’s scorching outward six-under 29 laid the platform for his opening round 63. Zambia’s Muthiya‚ a product of the University of New Mexico‚ is ranked 1,330th in the world but he belied that lowly position with a flawless round on Thursday.

“Today wasn’t necessarily easy‚” said Muthiya after his round at Bushwillow.

“The wind was swirling here and there in gusts. It certainly wasn’t as easy as people say it is‚” Muthiya insisted.

With half the field playing the longer Firethorn layout before changing around on Friday‚ Oosthuizen knows the score he posted has to be measured in a parallel universe. Among the leading 26 players after the first round only Kitayama‚ SA’s Zander Lombard, who is on seven under‚ Jake Roos and Charl Schwartzel‚ as well as Germany’s Max Schmitt played the Firethorn layout.

Still‚ nine-under is nine-under and Oosthuizen is satisfied.

“I drove it really well and gave myself good opportunities to get it close. I was putting nicely. Birdie and birdie just came. Matt [Wallace] and I went through a stage where I’d make a putt‚ then he’d make a putt.

“We were neck and neck the whole time up until 13. It is nice when two guys play good in the group,” Oosthuizen said.

Although he will tackle the more demanding Firethorn course on Friday‚ Bushwillow was no breeze.

“I have one golf course out of the way and now I can focus on the main golf course for the week. It feels like a new tournament starting for me on Friday.”

He will have Wallace for company again on Friday.

The Englishman made a breezy start. “The first five holes to come out of the blocks like that after a few weeks off was nice,” he said.

“I was a bit rusty on those holes where I dropped shots. I think that was the difference between Louis and I.

“I made bogey on the par three which was a par hole today... But I played nicely,” said Wallace, who is three

shots off the lead with Zimbabwe’s Mark Williams and SA’s Tyrone Ferreira.

Five-time champion and tournament host Ernie Els was a popular early front runner.

His 66 left him four off the pace with fellow South African David McIntyre‚ the 999th ranked player in the world.