Nixon edges in front at South African Open
Late eagle helps Englishman grab one shot lead in Johannesburg
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley plays his tee shot at the 17th in Johannesburg. Photograpgh: Warren Little/Getty Images
Matthew Nixon eagled his penultimate hole to open up a one-shot lead after day one of the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club in Ekurhuleni.
Marco Crespi, who has only had his European Tour card six days, looked as if he would get his time on the big stage off to the perfect start and top the leaderboard after the opening round until Nixon’s late heroics displaced him and South African Jbe Kruger at the the summit.
Nixon started on the back nine and opened his round with three birdies en route to reaching the turn in 31 but dropped a shot on his 11th hole.
Two further birdies put him within one shot of the lead and his eagle on the 477-yard par-five eighth saw him leapfrog Crespi and Kruger and claim the overnight advantage.
Crespi finished third at the Qualifying School at PGA Golf Catalunya last week to secure his place on Tour for the 2014 season and on Thursday fired an opening 65.
Also starting on the back nine, Crespi fired four consecutive birdies from the 12th to the 15th to turn in 32 and picked up a further three shots on the back nine to sit seven under.
Kruger, meanwhile, also eagled the eighth and then birdied five of his last seven holes but there were a host of fellow home favourites in the chasing pack.
Two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen was leading the group on six under after seven birdies, including one on the last, and a single bogey saw him fire a 66 alongside Christiaan Basson
Former US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel was expected to be in contention as he attempts to win his home tournament for the first time but younger brother Atti was a surprise name on the leaderboard.
The 25-year-old is a regular on the Sunshine Tour and is looking to make an impact on the bigger stage after firing a 67 to sit at five under alongside his brother who has high hopes for a good week.
“It means a lot, I’d love to win the South African Open,” Schwartzel said after his round.
“I did my preparation and figured out the way I want to play the golf course and it worked today.
“I’ve always had really good results in the South African Open, come close a few times.
“I reckon it’s one of those where you have to keep at it and keep playing and it will come eventually.”
Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen and Italian Andrea Pavan were also on five under, one shot clear of Simon Dyson.
The Englishman was playing his first tournament since disqualification from the BMW Masters after signing for an incorrect score and shot a four-under 68.
Dyson put aside concerns over an impending disciplinary hearing after being charged with a serious rules breach, for which the most severe punishment could be a ban, despite insisting his actions were an accidental mistake after television viewers spotted him touching the line of a putt.
However, his round was erratic with his opening nine holes including five birdies and two bogeys and, although he started the back nine with another dropped shot, he recovered with two more birdies to sit in a group with seven other players.
Simon Thornton fared best of the seven Irish challengers in the field but in truth it was a day to forget for most. Thornton birdied the last to move into red figures on one under, but he was the only Irish player to break par with Gareth Maybin next best after a round of 72.
Peter Lawrie (two over), Paul McGinley and Michael Hoey (both three over) were further off the pace while Damien McGrane (five over) and Justin Brink (seven over) find themselves among the back markers.