Russell Knox made a purposeful start to his challenge at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa’s Sun City as he finished three shots off the early pace.

The Inverness exile, who is making his first appearance on the European Tour as a fully paid up member of the circuit, opened with a three-under 69 to sit in a share of sixth place in the limited, 30-man field behind joint leaders, Henrik Stenson and Jaco Van Zyl.

Knox, the winner of the WGC HSBC Champions event in China last month, can now start earning Ryder Cup qualifying points and the Scot set himself up for a good plunder this week with a round that included a quartet of birdies.

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At the head of affairs, Stenson overcame a bout of flu and carded a neatly assembled 66 which included five birdies on a surging outward half.

“After I had to pull out of the Pro-Am on Tuesday I probably had a five per cent chance of playing," he said. "I felt quite a bit better in the morning and the doctor didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t play.

“I’m delighted with the score but the last few holes I completely ran out of energy. From the 14th onwards my legs were like jelly and it was a real struggle.”

Van Zyl, the host nation hopeful who is making his debut in the Nedbank event, hoisted himself into a share of the lead with a late flourish which included three birdies on his last five holes.

“It’s a great honour and privilege to be here," he said "I watch two events on TV each year – the Masters and this, so waking up this morning, instead of making sure the beers and the biltong (cured meat) were ready, I had to make sure my shoes were polished and my clubs were clean and go to work. On the first tee I could feel my heart beating in my throat.”

At the Australian PGA Championship in Queensland, meanwhile, another South African, Zander Lombard, set the pace with a five-under 67. Lombard, beaten by Scotland’s Bradley Neil in the final of the Amateur Championship last year, finished two shots clear of England’s Mark Foster.

On a tough day that saw only six players break par, Scott Jamieson had a 79 while fellow Scot, Paul Shields, struggled to an 82, two shots better than former US Ryder Cup player Brandt Snedeker.