Elson makes his last-minute entry pay off with fine opening round

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England’s Jamie Elson and Ireland’s Damien McGrane share the clubhouse lead after a weather-interrupted first round of the Joburg Open.

Elson, who holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the final green of the European Tour’s qualifying school at the end of last year to secure his card, made a flying start to 2012 with an eight-under-par 63 on Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s West Course.

That matched the earlier effort of McGrane, who managed to reach the clubhouse before thunderstorms halted play.

In total, around four hours were lost because of the threat of lightning, with some players unable to complete their rounds before darkness set in as a result.

Elson was six under after 15 holes before the suspension and picked up two more shots in his last three holes when play resumed.

“I had just hit a good shot on 16, the par three, and there was a strong downwind,” said Elson.

“With the water short (of the green) it was a pretty good shot and left myself with an eight- footer when I resumed play. I managed to knock that in and then finished well. I had a good year here last year so if I can do that again it would be nice.”

McGrane carded five birdies in a flawless front nine of 31 and collected two more on the back nine before chipping in for an eagle on the 15th.

South African pair Desvonde Botes and Peter Karmis and Holland’s Reinier Saxton are a shot off the lead, with Scottish duo David Drysdale and George Murray another stroke back.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, looking for a third straight win in the event, was level par with three holes left to play. If the South African makes it a hat-trick he would become only the sixth player, after Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

Hull’s Richard Finch led the Yorkshire challenge with a 66 on the West course, where Danny Willett came in three shots further back.

Sheffield-born Neil Cheetham went round in 72 on the East course, but Yorkshire’s other two hopefuls will have to return today to complete their opening rounds on the West. Harrogate’s John Parry was one-under through nine when the heavens opened, while Morley’s Danny Denison was level through 12.

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