SUN CITY, South Africa – Defending champion Lee Westwood birdied the last hole to shoot a 4-under 68 and share the first-round lead with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel at the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Thursday.
The third-ranked Westwood holed a putt from 20 feet on No. 18 for his fourth birdie. The Englishman also had an eagle-3 on No. 9 and two bogeys.
Schwartzel unleashed a birdie blitz on the back nine at Gary Player Country Club, picking up five shots over seven holes coming home.
Top-ranked Luke Donald was the early leader on his return to competition after a five-week break, but a double-bogey-6 on No. 17 gave him a 70 and a tie for fourth. Robert Karlsson was alone in third after shooting a 69.
Most of the 12-man field at the $5 million invitational event struggled through the second nine after a brief rain shower, but Westwood and Schwartzel made late rallies to top the leaderboard.
Westwood set up a strong finish when he landed a 5-iron within 6 feet on the par-5 ninth and rolled in his eagle putt. He followed with birdies on Nos. 10, 15 and 18.
“It was nice to hole that one at the last,” Westwood said. “I had it in the back of my mind that Charl was on 4 under and I wanted to be in the last group.
“I played lovely. Nice to make one putt at the last from about 18 feet because I hadn’t made any all day. But tee to green was brilliant.”
Schwartzel double-bogeyed No. 9, pushing his tee shot into the right rough and then sending his third into the water in front of the green. But he had birdies at Nos. 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 to come home in just 31 strokes.
“Turning 1 over, I wasn’t happy with myself,” Schwartzel said. “I felt like I was playing better than that. And sometimes that’s what you need to kick on. I just started firing at the flags. I probably got fearless.”
Playing for the first time since his blistering finish at Disney World to clinch the PGA Tour’s money list title, the top-ranked Donald had five birdies and a single bogey in a solid round through 16 holes.
But he put his tee shot on No. 17 into the water on the left of the fairway and emerged with a 6 to drop to 70 in his first competitive round in more than a month.
Dufner, the PGA Championship runner-up, had five birdies and three bogeys in his Sun City debut.
British Open champion Darren Clarke was the only player over par with a 74.