LYTHAM – Ernie Els is hoping it will be third time lucky at Royal Lytham this week after getting off to a strong start in the British Open with a first round of 67.
That left him two shots off the clubhouse lead and handily placed for a tilt at a second Open crown, 10 years after he won a four-man playoff at Muirfield.
Els, who also won the US Open in 1994 and 1997, tied for second behind Tom Lehman here in 1996 and was tied for third behind David Duval in 2001. He has a particular liking for the compact Lanchashire links course.
“In '96 I ran very close and I bogeyed 16 and 18 to finish two behind Tom. In '01 I was just back in the pack. I finished third, but there was a lot of us. And it was a lot firmer and faster,” the popular 42-year-old South African said.
“So I don't know, I just got a nice feel. You can go at it or you can play safe. And I like that, you know, I like those options you have, basically. You can play safe or you can go at it.”
Els has been showing signs of getting back to somewhere near his best this year after a long lean spell, notably posting a big challenge on the final day of the US Open in San Francisco last month before fading to ninth.
He was quickly under par in what is his 22nd Open campaign, but dropped strokes at the fifth and sixth before reaching the turn in two-under 32.
He then produced a superb finish, birdieing the 16th and 18th to come in with a three-under par total.
“I felt really good,” Els said of his round.
“I think the US Open was a good little test for me. That final round I felt good. And it's all about confidence. And it's starting to grow a little bit in me.”
“So today was a big day. As I say, you don't want to play yourself out of it. You can't win it today, but you can get yourself too far behind, so I'm pleased with the round.”
Els also had words of consolation for playing partner and defending champion Darren Clarke, who said he was disgusted with himself after struggling to a 76.
“I've been there. I was there, you know. He's hitting the ball beautifully. It's just a confidence thing. Your confidence is low, you get the wrong bounces,” he said.
“I mean, he had quite a few unlucky bounces today. It's just a part of the game. It's very difficult. I've been there for over a year. It's difficult to get yourself up from there.”
Asked what he thought his chances were of winning a fourth major on Sunday, Els said that he would have been tempted to put some money on himself.
“But I don't think it's allowed. I think I was like 100-to-1 or something?” – Sapa-AFP