Els rolls back years with strong Open start

Southport (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Ernie Els fired a warning that he can still make his presence felt at a major as he shot a two-under-par 68 in the opening round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.

Els started his day with a birdie at the par-four 1st -- where there have been some ugly scores in the opening round -- and he built on that with three more over the afternoon.

There were also two bogeys, including a disappointing dropped shot at the last, but the South African, now 47, is only three shots shy of the clubhouse lead.

That means he could have a say heading into the weekend, although he is braced for a challenging day weather-wise on Friday.

"You can't take stock now. It's so far away. Today, if you shoot 70 or better today, that was a good opening round because of the weather changing," said Els.

"Tomorrow (Friday), 74 might be great. So you've just got to look at where you are in the field, but I feel that I'm competitive.

"This morning, I didn't even want to look out of the window. It sounded horrific. If it's like that tomorrow, obviously it's going to be tough."

'The Big Easy' is a two-time Open champion, winning at Muirfield in 2002 and again at Royal Lytham, just up the coast from Birkdale, in 2012.

Since then he has gone into decline, not helped by injuries, but older players have often done very well in the Open of late -- Henrik Stenson was 40 when he won last year -- so there is hope for him yet.

"The body this year was difficult, you know, lower back and some issues, but when I feel healthy, I feel that I can swing the club and come into links courses and feel like I can compete.

"I haven't played very well since Lytham. That's just the bottom line.

"I enjoy this course. It plays a little bit like Lytham. There's a lot of iron shots that you have to play. You have to keep it between the bunkers, very much like Lytham.

"And I feel you get fairer bounces around here. So you can be a little bit aggressive here and there. And it's kind of soft, which Lytham was, also."