Sun City, South Africa — Sergio Garcia flew into a four-shot lead at the Nedbank Golf Challenge after an 8-under 64 on Thursday secured the biggest first-round advantage on the European Tour for a year.
Garcia, twice a Sun City winner before the Nedbank became part of the tour, made eight birdies in a brilliant start to the penultimate tournament of the season to move four strokes clear of Charl Schwartzel, Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Mikko Korhonen at the Gary Player Country Club.
The lead was the biggest first-round advantage since Arjun Atwal led by four at the Mauritius Open last November.
Rory McIlroy, one of five players with a chance of being crowned European No. 1 at the end of the season, shot a level-par 72 after a double-bogey six on his second-to-last hole spoiled his round.
McIlroy missed the fairway off the tee on No. 17 and then found a bunker. He ended the day in a tie for 21st.
Li Haotong, who can also win the Race to Dubai at next week’s Tour Championship, carded a 71.
A third player capable of ending the year as Europe’s No. 1, Lucas Bjerregaard, was 3-over.
Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari and second-placed Tommy Fleetwood aren’t playing in Sun City.
Garcia’s two Nedbank titles came in 2001 and 2003, and his 64 was his lowest round at the tournament for 17 years. He began with a birdie on Thursday and twice reeled off three in a row.
“I felt great,” he said. “I rolled the ball nicely. I made some good putts here and there. I probably wasn’t swinging unbelievably, but I kept it under control. I kept the ball in play all the time, which is difficult to do here.”
Garcia, 38, is seeking a second straight victory after winning last month’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters, which his foundation sponsors.
McIlroy, without a European Tour win this season, needs at least one victory in the next two weeks to have a chance of being crowned Europe’s No. 1 for a fourth time.
Matt Kuchar decided at the last minute to play the Mayakoba Golf Classic and made it look like a wise decision at Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with a 7-under 64 for a share of the lead with Dominic Bozzelli and PGA Tour rookie Kramer Hickok.
Kuchar, who has gone more than four years since his last victory on the PGA Tour, missed only two fairways at El Camaleon and was bogey-free for his lowest opening round since a 64 in the 2017 Phoenix Open.
The large group at 65 included defending champion Patton Kizzire, who had back-to-back eagles, and Abraham Ancer, who this week reached No. 98 to become the first Mexican golfer to crack the top 100 in the world ranking.
Jordan Spieth, playing his final event as a bachelor, shot 71.
Paul Goydos and Tim Petrovic shot 8-under 63 at Phoenix to share the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, leaving points leader Bernhard Langer seven strokes back in the PGA Tour Champions’ season finale.
In sunny, 80-degree conditions at Phoenix Country Club, Langer parred the final nine holes for a 70. The 61-year-old German star opened with a chip-in eagle on the par-5 first, but had two front-nine bogeys.
Scott Parel, No. 2 in the standings after winning two weeks ago at Sherwood, made a double bogey on 18 for a 71.
Langer and Parel would take the Cup with a tournament victory, while Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jerry Kelly, Scott McCarron and David Toms would need a win and help from other players. Langer has won the season-long competition four times, three straight from 2014-16. He has two victories this year.
McCarron topped the six contenders for the $1 million annuity, closing with an eagle for a 65. Kelly had a 68, and Jimenez and Toms shot 69.
Goydos also eagled No. 1 and closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th. He won the 2016 event at Desert Mountain. Petrovic eagled the 306-yard, par-4 fifth and rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 17th with a birdie on 18.
Glen Day shot 66, and defending champion Kevin Sutherland was at 67 with Vijay Singh, Joe Durant, Billy Mayfair, Lee Janzen, Kent Jones and Jeff Maggert.
Top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 4-under 68 to take a four-stroke lead at the halfway point of the Blue Bay LPGA tournament at Hainan Island, China.
Jutanugarn had birdies on the final two holes — and four of the closing seven — to take command over the rest of the field at 7-under 137.
Jennifer Song, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Gaby Lopez shot 71s and were in a tie for second at 3-under.
First-round leader Thidapa Suwannapura carded a 75 and fell six strokes behind the leader.
The Blue Bay tournament is the last of five on the LPGA Tour’s Asian swing.