JOHANNESBURG (AP) Jbe Kruger and Andy Sullivan both shot a 6-under 66 to share the first-round lead at the European Tour’s South African Open on Thursday.
Ernie Els was a shot behind as he searches for his first win in 19 months.
Els opened 2015 with a 67 in his home town of Johannesburg, picking up three birdies in his first nine after starting on No. 10 and making his only bogey on No. 12.
Els’ South African compatriot Kruger was bogey-free around Glendower Golf Club, while England’s Sullivan recovered from a double-bogey to ultimately card six birdies and an eagle.
Els was without a top-three finish on the European Tour last year for the first time since 1992, but his crisp iron play on a course he knows well put him in early contention for a sixth South African Open title.
An approach to within two feet on No. 9, his last, set up a tap-in for Els’ final birdie and a promising start to the new year for the four-time major champion who last won a title at the BMW International Open in June 2013.
”That was nice,” Els said. ”I was a little nervous here and there but it was so nice to play Glendower in front of my home crowd.”
Els said he found putting a little ”nerve-wracking” after reverting to a regular putter ahead of the banning of anchored strokes in 2016.
The 45-year-old Els is now the tournament host at the South African Open and is seeking the victory that will put him behind just Gary Player, Bobby Locke and Sid Brews as the most successful player at the second oldest tournament in professional golf.
He shares third with Lasse Jensen and Richard Sterne, with four other players tied for sixth after a weather delay led to a late finish for part of the field. One of those in the tie for sixth was former U.S. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who also started well with a 4-under 68 in his quest for a first South African Open title.
Defending champion Morten Orum Madsen of Denmark was 1 over after a 73 that included three bogeys and a double-bogey.