In testing conditions at St Francis Links on the Eastern Cape, Frenchman David Ravetto and Norwegian Kristian Krogh Johannessen set the pace with matching five-under-par 67s.
But, with the wind gusting to around 35mph, it was also a pleasing first day’s work for Syme, one of five Scots in the field for the $1.5 million DP World Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event.
“It was very challenging,” he admitted after signing for a card that contained seven birdies. “There were a lot of tees moved up to make it a bit more playable for us, but it was tough.
“You had to keep your ball flight down and I used my experience from playing in Scotland by hitting a lot of low drivers and punched shots into the wind. Overall, I definitely made a few mistakes but a lot of good birdies as well.”
Three of those came in his opening four holes along with a bogey before then picking up four shots in seven holes around the turn after starting his round at the tenth.
“I was in a lot of good positions off the tee. That was my strength today,” he added. “I was in position on basically every hole and my bogeys felt quite sloppy, even though you are going to make mistakes out there as it’s just tricky.
“I drove it nicely and that’s really the main challenge of this golf course. The fairways are generous enough, but, if you miss them, you are absolutely screwed.”
Syme, who has already secured his spot in the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool this summer, has been visiting South Africa since his amateur days.
“I’ve been coming down here with the Scottish squads since I was 18 and I’m now 27, so a long time and I do really enjoy it,” he said. “This my first time here and I can’t believe how far south we are. But it’s an amazing spot and, obviously with the wind and stuff, even being so far from home it still feels close to it, if that makes sense.”
David Law finished birdie-birdie for his 71, while Ewen Ferguson signed for a 72 after he ended an up-and-down round with three consecutive birdies.
Richie Ramsay had to settle for a 73 after dropping three shots in his last four holes and Calum Hill signed for a 76 that contained a bogey-double bogey-bogey run on his front nine.
Elsewhere, David Drysdale sits just outside the top 20 after opening with a one-under 71 in the Asian Tour’s DC Open at Delhi Golf Club, where course specialist Siddikur Rahman from Bangladesh set the pace with a 65.
Meanwhile, on the Ladies European Tour, Michele Thomson carded a level-par 72 as she made the strongest start among three Scots teeing up in the $1 million Aramco Team Series in Thailand.
The Aberdonian’s effort, which matched world No 1 Lydia Ko’s score, left her sitting in a tie for 28th as South African Nicole Garcia carded a best-of-the-day 67 at Laguna National Golf Resort Club to lead by one. Kylie Henry and Laura Beveridge opened with 79 and 80 respectively.