The pair tied at seven-under-par 67, but the big dogs might want to keep an eye on the puppy chasing their tails.
Former top ranked amateur Damian Naicker fired a flawless six under 66 at Houghton Golf Club and trails just one stroke off the pace.
Irvin Mazibuko carded a five under 67 to stay in touch with the leaders, while Dean O’Riley, Andi Dill, Breyten Meyer and Jacques De Villiers finished a further two strokes back in a tie for fifth.
Naicker rose to prominence with a superb performance for the victorious Central Gauteng team in the 2011 South African Inter-Provincial, but he failed to make it into the pro ranks at the 2012 Vusi Ngubeni Qualifying School.
The 27-year-old Modderfontein golfer recently returned home after a three year stint in the United Kingdom and is plying his trade on the country’s premier development Tour to have another stab at qualifying for the Sunshine Tour.
“I stayed in Yorkshire for three years and played the EuroPro Tour for about a year,” he said.
“I gained a lot of experience but I also realised that I needed to put in a lot more hours if I wanted to make a career out of golf. So far, I’ve had two top 10s in five starts on the IGT Tour.
“It really builds your confidence when you can put yourself in contention against guys like Danie. I struck the ball beautifully and I made a lot of putts, but I still left a few out there. I managed to keep bogey-free and that was really the key to my round.”
Van Tonder, meanwhile, turned three under after a flawless front nine and reeled in more birdies at 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15. He kept his card clean until an unfortunately bogey at the final hole.
“I guess I had a Pop-Eye moment,” said the three-time Sunshine Tour winner.
“I got a bit too strong there with the approach, but it wasn’t bad day at the office at all. I left four putts in the throat on the front nine, but it feels absolutely fantastic to be striking the ball well and to be scoring again.
“I had such a great season in 2014, but I caught the dip last year. It often happens that you go through a patch like that, but you just have to stay patient and work your way back.
“Last week I was 20 under through three rounds and I knew I was making great progress. To confirm it with a round like this is really good for the confidence.”
Franz’s round went the other way.
He had five birdies, an eagle at the par five fifth and a bogey at nine, but the putter ran cold on the back nine. He picked up another gain at 11, and negated a bogey at 17 with a birdie finish to claim a share of pole position.
“I really owe that birdie at 18 to my caddie, Fran Olivier,” Franz said.
“He knew I was teed off about the bogey at 17 and I was thinking about smashing a driver down 18, but he talked me out of it. He told me to leave the driver in the bag and said we only need two-iron and sand-wedge to make a birdie. And he was right.
“It was nice playing the back nine with Danie having a hot run, because Hennie and I really enjoyed our rally against him and Jared (Harvey) at Zwartkop last week. His presence just makes you dig a little deeper and stay a bit more focussed and he makes us raise our games.”
FIRST ROUND SCORES
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs indicated as AMA:
65 – Danie Van Tonder, Russel Franz
66 – Damian Naicker
67 – Irvin Mazibuko
69 – Dean O’Riley, Andi Dill, Breyten Meyer, Jacques De Villiers
70 – Stephan Erasmus (AMA), Duane Keun, Antonio Rosado (POR), Anton Haig, Teboho Sefatsa, Paul De Beer
71 – Ricki Dembo (AMA), Matthew Vogel, Oliver Bekker, Alastair Waddell (ENG), Juan Langeveld
72 – Neal Herman, Terence Boardman, David Ashley (ENG), Francois Coetzee, Ruan Huysamen (NAM), Phillip Kruse (AMA), Zachary Portemont (USA), Dayne Moore (ZAM), Norman Beggs, Conway Kunneke, Arthur Horne (SWA)
73 – Cameron Esau, Sheldon Steyn (ZIM), Dean Du Plessis (AMA), Gerard Du Plooy, Hilton Hughes (AMA), Simon Kruger, Angelo Marques (AMA), Dylan O’Leary, Jeff Inglis (ENG), Werner Van Niekerk, Shalan Govender
74 – Coert Groenewald, Brendan Britten (NAM), TJ Bekker, John McClean (NIR), CJ Levey, Patrick Thompson
75 – Quintin Crause (AMA), Owen Grobler, Eric Nel (AMA), Nyasha Muyambo (ZIM)
76 – Gary Daoust (AMA) (BEL), Tristan Nel (AMA), Tyrone Mordt, Drikus Van der Walt, Jaco Van Der Merwe (AMA)
77 – Marc De Jager (AMA), Jordan Parsons (AMA), Michelle Leigh, Wesley Baptiste (AMA), Ludovic Bax (MUS), Justin Levy (NLD), Derryn Mitri (AMA)
78 – Ricardo Towell, Roux Jeffery (NAM), Bryce Myburgh, Dylan de Beer, Terence Mogapi, Stuart Smith (BOT)
79 – Jacques De Villiers (AMA), Matt Wollman (AMA) (ZIM), Thabang Simon
80 – Dwayne Coetzee, Cameron Gunning, Jason Ackerman (AMA), WM Coetzee (AMA), Wian Gagiano (AMA), Nkosikhona Dilla (AMA)
81 – Sam Metcalfe (AMA), Divan Marais (AMA), Ryan Woolley (AMA)
82 – Christo Hattingh, Adriel Poonan (AMA), Tumie Motale, Phillip Montgomery, Richard Tsai (AMA)
84 – Shaun van Tonder, Duan Nagel (AMA)
86 – Gustav Erasmus
87 – Nicklas Van Wyk (AMA)
88 – Liam Bezuidenhout (AMA)
89 – Matthew Hands (AMA), Jabu Radebe, Charles Grobler (AMA)
95 – Shannon Naidoo (AMA)