Sergio Garcia shines bright at Sun City to take four-shot lead

Spanish star cards 64 in South Africa; Shane Lowry leads Irish challenge on one under

Sergio Garcia birdied three of the last four holes on his way to a faultless opening round of 64 and a four-shot lead in the European Tour's Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, South Africa on Thursday.

Garcia, fresh from victory at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters last month, carded eight birdies as he seeks a third title at Sun City after wins in 2001 and 2003.

It was the Spaniard’s lowest opening round score of the season by two shots and matched the biggest first-round lead on the tour in 2018.

“It felt great. I rolled the ball nicely, I made some good putts here and there. It was one of those rounds where things happened nicely to me,” Garcia told reporters.

“I played pretty smart, even though I probably wasn’t swinging unbelievably. I kept it under control and guessed some of the winds right, which is always difficult here.”

The course at the tournament dubbed “Africa’s Major” is narrower than many on the circuit.

“It’s important to keep the ball in play as much as possible here and it’s a precision type of golf course,” Garcia said.

The Spanish star leads from South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Mikko Korhonen from Finland, who all carded four-under-par rounds of 68.

A group of eight players are at three under-par, including defending champion Branden Grace and 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.

World number six Rory McIlroy could only manage a level-par 72 after a double-bogey at the par-four 17th following a wayward drive.

McIlroy has yet to win on the European Tour this season but is still in contention for the Race to Dubai and to be crowned Europe’s top golfer for 2018.

He would have to win in Sun City and next week in the United Arab Emirates to stand a chance of achieving that.

Shane Lowry is a shot better off than McIlroy after he carded four birdies and three bogeys in a one-under 71.

Pádraig Harrington carded a double-bogey on the eighth hole but back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th helped him finish with a one-over 73.

Paul Dunne is towards the back of the field in the no-cut tournament after carding a six-over 78 that included a triple-bogey seven of the fifth hole, his 14th.

SCOREBOARD

(British and Irish unless stated, par 72)

64 Sergio Garcia (Esp)

68 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Mikko Korhonen (Fin)

69 Jason Scrivener (Aus), Matt Wallace, Andy Sullivan, Ashun Wu (Chn), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Benjamin Hebert (Fra)

70 Branden Grace (Rsa), Ryan Fox (Nzl)

71 Haotong Li (Chn), Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Ross Fisher, Andrea Pavan (Ita), Shane Lowry, Jorge Campillo (Esp), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood

72 Paul Waring, Joost Luiten (Ned), Richard McEvoy, Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Chris Paisley, Renato Paratore (Ita), Aaron Rai, Matthias Schwab (Aut), Dean Burmester (Rsa), Rory McIlroy

73 Andrew Johnston, Sam Horsfield, Wade Ormsby (Aus), George Coetzee (Rsa), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Pádraig Harrington

74 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Lee Slattery, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Nacho Elvira (Esp)

75 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Robert Rock, Tom Lewis, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Gavin Green (Mal), Thomas Detry (Bel), Oliver Fisher

76 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Martin Kaymer (Ger)

77 Stephen Gallacher, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Jens Dantorp (Swe), Richard Sterne (Rsa)

78 Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Paul Dunne, Ashley Chesters, Danny Willett

79 Jordan Smith

80 Matthew Southgate

81 Alexander Levy (Fra)