American Max Homa and young Nicolai Højgaard of Denmark each carded 6-under 66s on Thursday. They lead with two others: Dan Bradbury, a 24-year-old Englishman who played collegiately at Florida State, and Vincent Norrman, the Swede who won the Irish Open this past September.
Homa and Højgaard last played professionally at the Ryder Cup, where the Europeans easily prevailed.
Homa earned 3.5 points, which led the Americans, while Højgaard, a rookie, struggled. The Dane failed to win a single match, totaling just 0.5 points during the biennial competition.
But the 22-year-old from Billund, Denmark, did not struggle on Gary Player’s course on Thursday.
Thanks to his accuracy off the tee, he made eight birdies, four on each side.
“It was quite steady out there today. I felt like I hit a lot of fairways, quite conservatively off the tee—a lot of five woods and three woods today to keep it in play and try and work my way into the week,” Højgaard said.
“So I did that really well today and hit some quality iron shots, rolled in a few putts, and then you shoot 66 round here, which I’m over the moon to shoot 66.”
Højgaard’s first hole Thursday mirrored his prior struggles in Sun City.
Last year, he did not break 70 once during the Nedbank Golf Challenge, finishing at 6-over par for 72 holes, which left him in solo 55th.
This year, he missed an easy par putt on the opening hole, but he shook it off quickly, birdieing three of his next four, thus finding his groove.
Unlike Højgaard, however, Homa did not record a single bogey on Thursday.
He made six birdies, none more significant than the one he made at the difficult 502-yard par-4 18th.
“That was mildly shocking,” Homa said after his round. “I would’ve assumed I’d shoot six over before six under, so it was a treat.”
Should Homa go on to win this week, it would mark his first victory on the DP World Tour. It would also be his sixth professional victory since the beginning of 2021.
But plenty of golf remains before we can start thinking about who will emerge victorious at South Africa’s biggest tournament.
After all, sitting one stroke behind the leaders is Ryder Cup snub Adrian Meronk, who carded a 5-under 67 Thursday. Then, sitting quietly at 4-under, lurks Francesco Molinari, the 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year.
At 3-under is Rasmus Højgaard, Nicolai’s twin brother. Tommy Fleetwood was at 3-under through 17 holes, too, but he dunked one in the pond on 18, thus leading to a double bogey.
Consequently, the Englishman finished at 1-under for the day.
The other big name in this field this week is Justin Thomas, who finished one stroke behind Fleetwood as he carded an even-par 72. The American was at 2-under through 13 holes, but back-to-back bogeys—thanks to errant tee shots—dropped him back to even.
It is a loaded field in South Africa, as 62 players in this 66-man field are all looking up at four men tied at the top.
Second-round coverage of the Nedbank Golf Challenge begins on Golf Channel at 4 a.m. ET on Friday.