DURBAN (Reuters) - - Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin took an early clubhouse lead then watched as the field failed to catch him after a blustery first round of the Volvo Golf Champions tournament at the Durban Country Club on Thursday.
The 39-year-old, who qualified for the European Tour event after winning last April's Spanish Open, hit five birdies in a five-under round of 67, two of them coming in the final two holes.
He is one shot clear of defending champion Louis Oosthuizen, who was the last player to finish his round.
Oosthuizen missed a birdie chance at the 18th to finish four under, a strong back nine helping to make up for a bogey on the opening hole.
"I was thinking over the first few holes ‘this could turn out horrific' so I just had to keep my head," Jacquelin told reporters. "On a course like this, and in the wind, you have to be patient and things just worked out."
Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open winner, who spent the holiday break on a 5000km road safari to Namibia, said: "There were a few rusty shots out there after the holidays but I controlled the ball well."
Northern Irishman Darren Clarke and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson were a further shot back after both hit 69 in the testing conditions that ensured a tough opening day for the invitation field, consisting mainly of winners of tour events over the last 12 months.
A further seven players, including Colin Montgomerie, are two under after 70s.
Among them was American Peter Uihlein, who turned his day around after starting with a triple bogey but then carding six birdies.
Less than half the field came in under par, with Swede Thomas Bjorn, who was last month's winner of the lucrative Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, hitting a seven over par 79.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Tony Goodson