The pair shot first-round 63s to sit together on eight under par at the top of the leaderboard, with Kieffer pegging Sterne back after the home favourite had raced off after being among the early starters.
Sterne, a 31-year-old who is making his way back in the game after long struggles with a back injury, came second in Dubai last week and clearly fancies a sixth European Tour title. He played the West Course yesterday and has the East to tackle today, but has fond memories of it after winning this event five years ago.
“I had three good rounds on the East Course that year. If I can do that now, I’ll have a chance on Sunday,” he said.
“Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens.”
South Africa’s Bryce Easton is third, a hole-in-one helping him to an East Course record 65, while eight players are hugged together on six under. American Peter Uihlein and Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren are the two non-South Africans in the group, while England’s Ross McGowan is on five under, along with 12 others.
Charl Schwartzel is sitting on four under, the 2011 Masters champion resting just off the pace after five birdies and a bogey on the East Course.
Hull’s Richard Finch led the way for Yorkshire’s golfers, with a 67 on the West Course. On the East, Danny Willett hit 70 while Sheffield’s Neil Cheetham was one shot behind.