Rory McIlory stares down the ball on the 15th hole at the BMW SA Open
Rory McIlroy made a strong start to his 2017 campaign at the BMW SA Open as the world number two carded an opening five-under-par 67 at Glendower GC.
The Northern Irishman produced seven birdies and two bogeys in his first competitive round since November to lie only one shot behind first-round leaders Trevor Fisher Jnr and Keith Horne.
After starting with a run of four straight pars McIlroy took advantage of perfect scoring conditions to reel off four straight birdies from the 14th, with further gains coming on the second, sixth – where he almost carded a hole-in-one – and eighth.
"Yeah, it was good," the four-time major champion told the European Tour's official website.
"The first competitive round of 2017. I'm quite pleased.
"I felt like I gave myself a lot of chances on our front nine, the back nine. That four under could have been probably six or seven but it was a really good way to start.
"It was a bit scrappy in places around the last few holes but five under par is a good way to start to start this tournament.
"Weather-wise, not much wind, there was a score to be had out there. I think 67 I am pleased with but I feel that if we get conditions like that for the rest of the week I can definitely go lower."
McIlroy, playing with new equipment after Nike's decision to withdraw from the golf club business, revealed that he had been working hard on his game over the winter break.
"I had a lot of nice shots, I had some good iron shots," he added. "I had some really good drives on the front nine, the first nine holes, and so that was encouraging.
"I made a couple of sloppy swings coming in but that's something that hopefully I can work on and try to eradicate for tomorrow.
"I holed a few nice ones but the ones that I missed I feel a little more speed was needed than anything else.
"I've been working hard on my putting, I feel like from August last year to today it's come on leaps and bounds and I hope it can only improve."
Home favourites Fisher Jnr and Horne both carded seven birdies against a single dropped shots in their rounds of 66, while McIlroy was joined in a share of third by South
Africans Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe Kruger and England's Jordan L Smith.
Tournament host Ernie Els carded a two-over 74, while six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo – making a rare competitive appearance at the age of 59 – produced a two-under 70.