Ernie Els with playing partner Justin Rose at the end of the first round on Thursday. Photo: Paul Childs, Action Images via Reuters

VIRGINIA WATER – Four-times major winner Ernie Els underlined why golf has a proud reputation for integrity and fair play by calling a two-shot penalty on himself at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

The veteran South African chipped in for an eagle three at the 12th, after having replaced his ball when it became plugged in a greenside bunker.

Els, however, said he quickly felt uneasy about his new lie, and eventually ended up signing for a par-five instead.

“My second shot... I pulled a bit left and hit it into the bank of the bunker,” the 47-year-old told reporters after completing a 1-under-par 71 in the opening round of the European Tour’s flagship event.

“I asked my guys (playing partners) if I could check it, and they said ‘yeah’. I put it back and hit my chip shot, and just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out.

“The ball came out way too good, so I felt I probably didn’t quite put it exactly where I should have... so we took a two-shot penalty,” said Els. “I called it on myself.

“The game of golf, it is what it is. I know deep down the ball wasn’t quite where it should be and, you know, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Els, who is based in the United States but has a house on the Wentworth estate, received stinging criticism from some of his fellow players after masterminding extensive changes to the BMW PGA Championship venue in 2009.

The course has undergone more radical alterations in the past 12 months, especially the putting surfaces, and this time they have met with widespread approval.

“First and foremost, you have to thank the greens staff,” said Els, who won the British Open in 2002 and 2012, and the US Open in 1994 and 1997. “The greens are absolutely as pure as you can find.

“We listened to some of the player comments through the years... and I think we’ve got it right this time.”

Little-known Swede Johan Carlsson took full advantage of the new improved greens at Wentworth by firing a pace-setting 6-under 66 on Thursday. The 30-year-old picked up five strokes in a blistering outward half of 30, before three back-nine birdies were partially offset by bogeys at the 10th and 18th.

While Carlsson was flying high at the top of the leaderboard, World No 9 Justin Rose had to settle for a 72, and fellow Englishman Ian Poulter ballooned to a 76.

The fifth-ranked Henrik Stenson was handily placed on 68, one behind Italy’s Francesco Molinari, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand and Scott Jamieson of Scotland.

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