Durban: Jeev Milkha Singh, playing with a strapped finger that still hurts him once in a while, carded a fine three-under 69 to grab the tied fourth position on a windy first day at the Volvo Golf Champions here.
It was a good beginning for the Asian Tour stalwarts, as Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, on his very first visit to South Africa, defied strong winds to start with a brilliant seven-under 65.
At one point, Thongchai, winner of the Wales Open last year, was leading by five but by the end, South Africans, veteran Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen, had got to four-under 68 each to leave the gap at three, which was still big enough lead at this level.
Jeev had a blemish-free back nine with three birdies after trading two birdies for two bogeys on the front nine.
Jeev said, "I was a little rusty to start with, but my short game was really good. I putted well and though I can improve a few things, I am happy with the 69. The greens are small and if you miss on the wrong side, it is tough to get back up and down, but I recovered well."
Jeev admitted that he loves playing in the wind and added: "This course reminds me of the Delhi Golf Course. I love this kind of course where you have to manage your drives and manage the course well. Sure, DGC doesn't have this kind of wind, but this one (Durban) like DGC is a old traditional kind of course."
On the conditions, he continued, "It's gusty and you need to be sure of the club and the distance. It is tough to control on downwind."
Returning after a break, he said, "My finger is on the mend, maybe in two months time, I won't need the strapping.
"But the doctor has asked me to be careful. I need to do well to get into top-50.
"Back home it was cold and it was nice to spend time with the family, but it is always tough to leave the little one (son) when he says, 'Dad don't go'. Hopefully I will get him on the road soon, too," he added.
Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey was four-under with three to play, but blocked his drive at the 16th and then had another double-bogey on the 273 yard last after losing a ball in bushes.
Sharing the fourth place with Jeev were Dane Thomas Bjrn, who had an eagle at the long eighth and back-to-back birdies, Jamie Donaldson, Scott Jamieson, Paul Lawrie, Richie Ramsay and Danny Willett.
Open Champion Ernie Els, had three birdies to start with and then double bogeyed the fourth. But before the turn he got back those dropped shots with birdies on seventh and ninth just as the rain came in. On the back nine, he birdied 10th and 18th and dropped a shot on 11th.
Jaidee, who qualified for the 33-strong winners-only field by capturing the ISPS Handa Wales Open in wind and rain last June, said: "I'm very happy with that. I enjoy the course. You have to think a lot - I hit the driver on only two holes and I put a three-iron in my bag only 15 minutes before we teed off."