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Ernie Els targets early victory after year without win

By Phil Casey

Tournament host Ernie Els set about making amends for a winless 2014 at the earliest possible opportunity with an excellent start to his bid for a sixth South African Open title on Thursday.

Els carded six birdies and one bogey at Glendower Golf Club in his native Johannesburg to finish five under par, one shot behind compatriot Jbe Kruger and England's Andy Sullivan.

The 45-year-old started on the back nine and recovered from a bogey on the 12th with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th to be out in 34, before picking up further shots on the second and fifth.

Els missed a good birdie chance on the seventh from 15ft, but finished his round in style with a superb iron shot to two feet on the ninth for a closing birdie.

"That was nice," said Els, who failed to register a top-three finish on the European Tour last season for the first time since 1992. "I was a little nervous here and there but it was so nice to play Glendower in front of my home crowd."

Els has reverted to a normal putter ahead of the ban on anchored strokes which comes into effect in 2016 and admitted short putts were "still a little bit nerve-wracking".

However, the home favourite and four-time major winner was delighted with his iron shots on a course featuring thick rough surrounding the narrow fairways.

"We have had a nice start now and I want to keep it up, get better on the greens a little more and see where we end up," he said.

Sullivan recovered from a double bogey on the fifth with birdies on the eighth and ninth and then carded three more in succession from the 12th before chipping in for an eagle on the par-five 15th.

The 27-year-old from Nuneaton, said: "I got lucky a couple of times today in the rough, found a few good spots to say the least and took advantage of it so it's been good."

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