Els well placed in Johannesburg

Published: Thursday 8th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Tournament host Ernie Els set about making amends for a winless 2014 at the earliest possible opportunity with an excellent start to his bid for a sixth South African Open title on Thursday.

Els carded six birdies and one bogey at Glendower Golf Club in his native Johannesburg to finish five under par, one shot behind compatriot Jbe Kruger and England’s Andy Sullivan.

The 45-year-old started on the back nine and recovered from a bogey on the 12th with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th to be out in 34, before picking up further shots on the second and fifth.

Els missed a good birdie chance on the seventh from 15 feet, but finished his round in style with a superb iron shot to two feet on the ninth for a closing birdie.

“That was nice,” said Els, who failed to register a top-three finish on the European Tour last season for the first time since 1992. “I was a little nervous here and there but it was so nice to play Glendower in front of my home crowd.”

Els has reverted to a normal putter ahead of the ban on anchored strokes which comes into effect in 2016 and admitted short putts were “still a little bit nerve-wracking”.

However, the home favourite and four-time major winner was delighted with his iron shots on a course featuring thick rough surrounding the narrow fairways.

“I have been working on that a little bit, taking a little distance off and trying not to hit them too hard,” he added on Sky Sports 4. “Coming off the fairway they were coming out nice and crisp so I enjoyed my iron shots today.

“We have had a nice start now and I want to keep it up, get better on the greens a little more and see where we end up.”

Sullivan recovered from a double bogey on the fifth with birdies on the eighth and ninth and then carded three more in succession from the 12th before chipping in for an eagle on the par-five 15th.

The 27-year-old from Nuneaton, who won a trip into space for a hole-in-one in the KLM Open last year, told European Tour Radio: “This course is set up difficult with the rough and there were a few tricky pins out there so I am really happy with six under. I just got on a bit of a roll out there.

“I got lucky a couple of times today in the rough, found a few good spots to say the least and took advantage of it so it’s been good.

“It’s not a position that I have been too familiar with the first day, it’s normally the back end of a tournament where I get going but it’s nice to be in that position and hopefully I can kick on like I normally do, the luck continues and I find myself in that position on Sunday.”

Kruger, who finished runner-up to Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen last year, carded six birdies in a flawless 66 while Els was joined on five under by compatriot Richard Sterne and Dane Lasse Jensen.

Spanish rookie Jordi Garcia Pinto had enjoyed a four-shot lead when he reached seven under par after 15 holes before bogeys at the last three holes meant the Challenge Tour graduate had to settle for a four-under-par 68, which was later matched by Scotland’s David Drysdale and South African pair Charl Schwartzel and Colin Nel.

Published: Thursday 8th January 2015 by The News Editor

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