Ernie Els on the 16th hole at the US Open. Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP

ERIN HILLS, Wisconsin – Twenty years to the day after the second of his two US Open victories, Ernie Els still feels at home in the tournament billed as the toughest test in golf.

The 47-year-old South African veteran carded a respectable 2-under-par 70 at Erin Hills on Thursday as he launched his 25th US Open campaign.

It might have been better had it not been for a stumble on the closing two holes of his round, where back-to-back bogeys shunted him down the leaderboard to 2-under.

Els, however, was simply happy to remind the galleries that he can still mix it at major championships as his career winds down.

“All in all, I’ve got to be happy,” Els said. “You take a 2-under-par in the first round in the US Open, you’re right there,” said Els, who is five adrift of leader Rickie Fowler, who carded a 7-under 65 in tame conditions at Erin Hills.

Ernie Els just left his par putt short on the 17th green. Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP

Els, meanwhile, revealed that a series of nagging injuries had hampered his performance this season.

“The way I’ve been scoring has been awful this year,” said the four-time major winner, who finished 53rd at the Masters in April.

“But physically, I wasn’t great. A lot of times I had a couple of niggles… and the lower back hip and shoulder and knee. So it’s really the first year that I’ve got experience with that, so it’s kind of new.”

Ernie Els with the US Open trophy after winning at Congressional in 1997. Photo: AP

The presence of a trainer in his entourage this week had boosted his performance.

“I’ve got my trainer Vern here, and I’m feeling a bit better. So I’m feeling really loose,” added Els, who grimaced at being reminded that it was 20 years to the day since his last US Open win at Congressional in 1997.

“Don’t write that. Really,” he quipped. “My dad actually sent me a photo of us after Congressional.

“It’s crazy that 20 years has gone so quickly. In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.

“So, it’s amazing. I’m just blessed to still be playing the game. So nice to still compete.”

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