Big Easy leads the way for SA
Ernie Els led the South African challenge on day one of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes with a fighting three under par 67 on Thursday.
The lead was set at six under 64 by Australian Adam Scott, with Scot Paul Lawrie, American Zach Johnson and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts all one shot behind with scores of 65.
Els, finished tied sixth, and was in a good mood after a round that left him perfectly placed after the opening day on a tight links course.
“I wish I could have put some money on myself. But I don't think it's allowed. I think I was like 100 to one or something?” said Els after his round about how he felt about his chances of winning.
Fresh off a ninth place finish at the US Open, The Big Easy demonstrated his Open pedigree, which included lifting the Claret Jug in 2002, as he reeled off six birdies in his first round.
Els said he has confidence in his short game coming to the Open, and in particular with his putter which has misbehaved in the last few years.
“On the back nine I felt I missed quite a few,” he explained.
“But I'm getting it to the hole. I'm not so anxious over the putts anymore. And that's a good sign.”
Els made his opening birdie of the day on the long par-four second, where he holed a putt of 14 feet to pick up a shot.
He struggled to gain momentum after the second, and his round stumbled with bogeys coming at the fifth and sixth holes.
At the long par-five seventh, which was lengthened by 35 yards since the 2001 Open held at the same venue, Els nestled his second shot next to the green and got it up and down for a birdie four.
The turning point, it seemed, came on the tricky par-four eighth.
There Els erred with his approach leaving his second shot in a bad position short of a steep slope in front of the green.
Staring at bogey, he pulled off a superb bump-and-run up the slope before rolling it in for a three and make the turn in one under.
Coming home, Els picked up another shot at the par five 11th but dropped a shot at the par four 14th.
The 42-old responded with a birdie on the 16th before a final birdie at the last where he knocked his approach to three feet.
Fellow South African Thomas Aiken was also right in the mix with an opening 68 in a tie for 14th.
Aiken was more than pleased with his round and said it was more adrenalin filled than he expected for a Thursday.
“I had a few miraculous things happen,” said Aiken after his round.
“Fourteen I didn't hit too bad a tee shot and just got a terrible lie in the rough. Wedged it out and hit a pretty good pitch up to about 10 foot and hit the putt and it just missed.”
On the whole, Aiken explained his score was about the best he could have got out of his day's work.
“The start was good. I played very solid the first nine holes. Hit the ball in pretty much perfect position on every hole.
“Gave myself some good chances. Capitalised on three of them. I was very happy with the play up until the 14th hole.”
Open debutant Jbe Kruger also turned in an impressive 68, capped with a birdie on his final hole.
Charl Schwartzel and Richard Sterne both fired one under par 69s to lie a further shot back in a share of 21st spot on the leaderboard.
Two time major-winner Retief Goosen had a level par round of 70 settling for 36th spot.
Garth Mulroy, in the first group of the day signed for a one over 71.
2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen ended with a disappointing two over 72 in 80th position, and with work to do to make the weekend.
Branden Grace shot 73, George Coetzee, Andrew Georgiou and Trevor Immelman all shot 74, Tim Clark had a 76 and Grant Veenstra ended on 77.