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For us South Africans, these co-sanctioned tournaments are very important, says Louis de Jager (Image: Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour)Michael Vlismas

Louis de Jager birdied three of his last four holes to take a one-stroke lead in the first round of the Tshwane Open on Thursday, 1 March, and also moved one step closer to a European Tour title.

De Jager opened with a bogey-free round of seven-under-par 64 on the par-71 Pretoria Country Club layout, giving him the edge over America’s Julian Suri, fellow South African Thomas Aiken and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar.

In December, De Jager came close to a maiden victory on the European Tour when he led the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open and eventually finished fourth.

And his start to this week’s tournament was another affirmation of his hard work paying off.

“I’ve been working quite hard on the game and it’s nice to see the results. For us South Africans, these co-sanctioned tournaments are very important. We all know what we’re playing for this week,” he said.

De Jager was in the morning field and relished the overcast conditions and a golf course that was receptive to low scores.

“It’s nice to go off in the morning and then post a score like this. I’m really pleased with that. I started off nicely on the front nine, was steady at the start of my back nine and then finished off really well.

“The course is playing a bit easier than previous years because it’s a bit softer. But the rough is up and you still have to hit it straight.

“Fortunately my misses were small and I missed them in the right places, which happens when you have a good day. Overall my game was good on all levels.”

Home favourite and 2015 Tshwane Open champion George Coetzee opened with a four-under-par 67. Sunshine Tour Order of Merit leader Erik van Rooyen bogeyed the last for a 68. And 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett began his tournament with a round of 70.