Trevor Immelman, who won this title in 2003 and 2004, Andrew Raitt and Carl Suneson joined the three-time major winner atop the leaderboard at Humewood Golf Club.
Former Order of Merit champion Lee Westwood, who finished second last week at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Patrik Sjoland and Des Terblanche are knotted in fifth place at 4-under-par 68.
The weirdest round of the day belonged to the defending champion, Retief Goosen.
The two-time U.S. Open champion tallied two birdies and an eagle on his front nine, then countered with back-to-back birdies from the par-5 11th. Goosen dropped a shot at the 13th, but flew into the lead with an eagle at the par-5 15th.
Goosen reached 8 under par and grabbed a three-shot lead with a birdie at 16 until disaster struck at the par-5 17th. The fifth-ranked player in the world hit into unplayable lies twice and after the second instance, dropped his ball and thought it rolled out of the two-club-length perimeter.
He dropped again, thinking the ball rolled out that area, when he should not have and that cost him two strokes instead of one as he took an 11 on the hole.
'By picking the ball up, he needed to replace it to incur only a one-shot penalty. But by dropping it, it became two shots,' said European Tour Referee Andy McFee.
Goosen showed his mettle with a birdie at the last to shoot a 3-under-par 69,
Els, who lost a final-round shootout to Goosen last year, began his round on the back nine and collected his first birdie of the round at the par-5 11th. He dropped a shot at 14, but reclaimed the lost stroke with a birdie at the par-4 16th.
On his second nine, Els tallied four consecutive pars to open his round, but the par at 13 was hard-earned and might have turned his entire round around.
'I wasn't that sharp up to that point,' admitted Els.
He birdied the fifth and sixth holes, then eagled the par-5 seventh to move to 5 under par. Els parred his final two holes to grab his share of the lead in windy conditions.
'Before I went out I would have taken 67 for sure,' Els said. 'When I went out I wasn't sure what the wind was going to do, but it seemed to blow consistently.'
Immelman also played the back nine first and made the turn at 1 under par. He birdied two and four, then, at the 350-yard, par-4 ninth, drained a 35-foot eagle putt to join the group in the lead.
Raitt teed up on the 10th and bogeyed the 13th hole. He birdied four in a row from the 14th to head to the second nine at minus-3. Raitt got to 5 under with back-to-back birdies at one and two
He bogeyed the third hole to fall out of the lead, but a birdie at the seventh gave him his share of first.
Suneson traded a pair of birdies and a pair of bogeys over the front nine, but caught fire on the back. He racked up birdies at five of his first six holes on the back side for his 67.
Goosen was joined in eighth place by Fredrik Andersson, Gareth Davies, Pelle Edberg, James Kamte, James Kingston and Alan McLean.