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 6 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.
Haotong Li, 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.''
The 38-year-old Garcia 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.