Li Haotong and Lucas Bjerregaard also have outside chances at the Race to Dubai title but Haotong was six shots off the lead at the Nedbank Challenge and Bjerregaard was 10 behind.
Garcia began with successive birdies, and picked up further shots on the par-four sixth, the par-five ninth and par-five 14th, but missed a short putt for par on the fifth, three-putted the 13th for a bogey and then dropped another shot on the 18th hole as his second putt horseshoed back at him.
"It wouldn't have been the year that I would have envisioned at the start but you're not going to have those years every single year that you play". "My game is not really where I want it to be, but I've got two more opportunities this week to try and put a couple of good rounds together and then go to Dubai and try to finish the season on a high".
Star attraction Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland could manage only a 71 at the Gary Player Country Club in northwestern South Africa, leaving him eight shots adrift of the 2017 Masters champion. I rolled the ball nicely, I made some good putts here and there.
The Spaniard, looking for back-to-back victories after triumphing at Valderrama, shot an eight-under-par first round to lead by four but goes into the weekend just one ahead of home favourite Louis Oosthuizen.
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South Africa's Charl Schwartzel is one of three second-placed players on four-under, along with Finn Mikko Korhonen and Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
"It's a tournament I've always wanted to play as a kid and came here plenty of times with the family to watch", he said.
McIlroy's front nine was promising with three birdies offset by just a single bogey, at the par-four third when his ball plugged just below the lip of a greenside bunker. "It's never easy, but I've done it before so hopefully, I can do it again", said Grace.
"This tricky wind moved all over the place, and on one hole you could have three or four different winds".
Kiwi Ryan Fox is six shots back in a share of 11th, after carding a two-under 70 to start the tournament in South Africa. "It's a golf course that you need to be patient around".