Cape Town - Rory Sabbatini and Keith Horne kept the South African flag flying high at Pearl Valley where the SA Open got under way on Thursday morning.
The KZN pair of Durban-born Sabbatini and Horne, who hails from Pietermaritzburg, were among the early finishers who secured lofty positions on the leaderboard after finishing with first round scores of 66. They were joined on six under by Englishman Ross McGowan and another South African, Jaco van Zyl, of Kokstad.
The 37-year-old Horne was shaping up as a likely first round leader after 16 holes, by which time he had made seven birdies and parred the rest. However, Pearl Valley for once got the better of him at the 17th where he double-bogeyed and then recovered to finish with a par on the 18th.
Sabbatini, playing the SA Open for the first time, was playing with the two tournament favourites Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els but he refused to be overawed. He was a model of consistency in a faultless first round in which he recorded six birdies.
He might have returned to the clubhouse with a slightly better score if his putter had made a greater impact on his game.
"It's not that it (the putter) hasn't been working," said Sabbatini. "It seems like I've been putting great. It's just been a situation where it has not quite resulted in the ball going in the hole.
"With my wife being on the bag this week, and me being a little more patient, I know she'll give me a harder time than my caddie, so I think just maybe that's the key, just kind of taking a step back and kind of letting the putts go in instead of trying to force them in."
McGowan was battling the twin intimidation of wind and a stomach bug but he ended his first round on a highly credible note to be grouped with Sabbatini and Horne on 66.
"It was windy when I started and I haven't been well," said McGowan.
"Stomach bug I think.
"It was nice to get three-under through the back nine and shoot up the leader board quite quickly.
"I birdied 17 and 18. They are very tricky. I was just looking for par there really.
"And then nine, I had a good drive there, I was looking for a birdie but unfortunately I didn't." McGowan said the wind was a factor as he made his way around the course.
"It was quite windy the first thing this morning but it blew itself out there.
"Especially on the back nine, there's a bit of water on the course at 16 and 17, so with the cross wind they are very tough holes."