The world No 2, who is making his first visit to the Rainbow Nation since 2009, started with four pars after teeing off at the 10th at Glendower in Gauteng.
He then stormed up the leaderboard by going 2-4-3-2 and, after turning in 32, sat a shot behind the leader, home hope Trevor Fisher Jnr.
It was an encouraging start for McIlroy, who heads to the Middle East next week to lock horns with the likes of Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson in Abu Dhabi, with his new Callaway clubs.
David Drysdale, who has developed a reputation as something of a South African specialist over the years, made easily the best start among the four Scots in the field.
Having also started at the 10th, the Cockburnspath man birdied the 11th and 15th before dropping shots at both the 17th and 18th.
He started his back nine with a birdie, though, to sit just outside the top 10.
Playing in the same group, Kirkhill amateur Craig Ross was finding his first European Tour appearance a bit of a struggle.
The 23-year-old, who secured his spot through winning the South African Amateur last year, turned in 40 after dropping shots at the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th.
Duncan Stewart and Scott Henry were also sitting close to the bottom of the leaderboard after finding it tough going as well.
Stewart, who has graduated from the Challenge Tour, started with three straight bogeys from the first.
Henry, who secured his return to the main Tour through the Qualifying School, was out in four-over, having dropped shots at the third, fourth, fifth and seventh.
James Byrne leapt up the leaderboard with a par-breaking effort in today’s second round of the Asian Tour Qualifying School final in Thailand.
The Banchory man carded a four-under 68 at Suvarnabhumi Golf & Country Club in Bangkok to sit joint-68th in the clubhouse.
Byrne, who has been based in Asia for most of his professional career, signed for six birdies.
Jimmy Gunn started his 2017 campaign with a top-40 finish in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic on the Web.com Tour.
The Dornoch man closed with rounds of 76 and 75 for a 14-under-par 302 total in the wind-ravaged event Sandals Emerald Bay.
He ended up in a share of 39th spot in an event won by American Kyle Thompson as he claimed a fifth title triumph on the circuit.
In signing off with a brace of 70s for a two-under-par total, he finished two shots ahead of namesake Nicolas and Andrew Yun in the the Web.com Tour’s first Sunday-Wednesday event.
Russell Knox is among the early starters in today’s first round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
The Scottish No 1 is out at 7.30am local time in the Honolulu event along with Chris Kirk and Richy Werenski.
The field also includes world No 5 Jordan Spieth, US PGA champion Jimmy Walker and Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose.
The R&A has invited a panel of leading international and local experts to present at two Sustainability in Golf seminars being staged in Japan and Korea this spring.
Following the success of similar events in China and Thailand last year, hundreds of golf club officials, golf course operators and developers from the region are expected to attend the seminars, which are being supported by the Japan Golf Association and the Korea Golf Association.
Verdura Resort in Sicily, a Rocco Forte hotel and recently announced as the host venue of a new European Tour event - The Rocco Forte Open - has become the latest addition to the European Tour Properties portfolio.
Verdura, which comprises of three Kyle Phillips-designed links-style courses, an Sea.
is the first new addition to the European Tour Properties network in 2017.
Six resorts joined the portfolio last year, including Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome, venue for the 2022 Ryder Cup.