South African Louis Oosthuizen fired a first-round 62 to lead the South African Open in Johannesburg

Johannesburg (AFP) - Louis Oosthuizen made a spectacular return to the EPGA South African Open after an eight-year absence by carding a nine-under-par 62 Thursday to take the first-round lead.

The 36-year-old South African is one shot ahead of American Kurt Kitayama, who won the Mauritius Open last Sunday, and Zambian Madalitso Muthiya, ranked 1,330 in the world.

South African Zander Lombard lies fourth after a 64 over one of two courses being used at the Randpark Golf Club in a Johannesburg suburb.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner and a runner-up in all four majors, called his first round in sweltering conditions over the shorter Bushwillow course “beautiful”.

“The greens were very good and receptive,” he said after a round spiced with nine birdies and containing no dropped shots.

“I kept my foot on the gas the whole time because there are so many good golfers in this field,” said the eight-time European Tour winner.

“I need to play well because it has been a long time since I had a win. My game is heading in the right direction and I like where it is at the moment.”

Oosthuizen last won in 2016, topping the Perth International leaderboard in western Australia.

Ranked 36 in the world, the South African is the highest-placed golfer in the 240-strong field and after three outward-nine birdies, he caught fire with six birdies on the back nine, staring with 10, 11 and 12. He covered the second nine in 30 shots and set a scorching pace that no one was able to match.

Kitayama followed up his triumph in Mauritius with four birdies on the front nine and an eagle three at 14 and two birdies for his 63.

He joined Muthiya, who first played golf as a six year old and has won one southern Africa Sunshine Tour tournament since turning professional in 2005.

A flawless round of 63 from the 35-year-old Zambian included six front-nine birdies.

Englishman Matt Wallace, rated by many as a potential winner after four European Tour titles since May 2017, launched his challenge with a 65 that included eight birdies and two bogeys.

He shares fifth with South African Tyrone Ferreira and Zimbabwean Mark Williams.

Local favourite and veteran campaigner Ernie Els, whose 71 professional victories include four majors, is among nine challengers on 66.

Each competitor plays one round on the Bushwillow course and one on the longer, more challenging Firethorn, which is also used for the final two rounds.