Garcia sets Round 1 pace at Sun City

Sergio Garcia won his first European Tour title of the 2018 season at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters. Warren Little/Getty Images

Sergio Garcia played near flawless golf on Thursday to claim the Round 1 lead of the 2018 Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Garcia went around the Gary Player Country Club course in a 8-under par 64 to claim a handy four-shot lead over France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Charl Schwartzel, the highest-placed local. In so doing, the 38-year-old Spaniard has set himself up perfectly as he attempts to become the fourth player to win this tournament three times.

"It felt great," Garcia told the host broadcaster post-round. "I rolled the ball nicely, made some good putts here and there and had one of those rounds where things happened nicely to me."

Garcia is a fresh off winning the Andalucía Masters at the iconic Valderrama Golf Club, but knew that he couldn't just rely on his current form at a course where he has won in 2001 and 2003 (following playoffs against local favourites Ernie Els and Retief Goosen respectively).

"I think I played very smart, I wasn't swinging unbelievably but I kept it under control and kept the ball in play all the time which is difficult to do here. I also managed to guess some of the winds here right... when you can do that here it is nice to shoot a score like I did. Hopefully we can keep going like today."

Garcia's day was made ever more impressive by the fact that only 20 of the 72-man field completed their rounds under par; with a further 10 at even-par.

Louis Oosthuizen, who like fellow local Schwartzel is yet to win 'Africa's Major', was left to lament a round that looked on course to match Garcia's when he was four-under after six rounds -- he signed his playing card for a three-under 69.

"I played good, but on the back nine I went a little cold with the putter and didn't hit great shots coming in so all-in-all three under is still fine for the first round but it was one I could have easily done six, seven under," Oosthuizen said in his post-round television interview.

Defending champion Branden Grace, headed to the clubhouse with a solid but unspectacular two-under 70 while his playing partner Rory McIlroy had to settle for a frustrating even-par 72.

Three former winners of the Nedbank Golf Challenge had far tougher afternoons; Trevor Immelman (2007 champion) carded a +2, Martin Kaymer (2012) and Thomas Bjorn (2013) finished at four-over while 2014 champion Danny Wilett had to sign for a six-over and finds himself at tied-66th.