Els moves into Bay Hill contention with 67
Updated: 2006-03-17 09:06
MIAMI, March 16 (Reuters) - Former winner Ernie Els charged into contention at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Florida with a five-under-par 67 in Thursday's opening round.
The world number five holed a 50-foot eagle putt at the par-five sixth before ending a day of near-perfect conditions one shot behind American pacesetters Bart Bryant and Dean Wilson.
Champion in 1998, Els produced a blemish-free display, joining Americans Ben Curtis, Chad Campbell, Lucas Glover and Jason Gore in a tie for third.
The three-times major winner, who teed off at the par-four 10th on a calm morning, also collected three birdies.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia fired a seven-birdie 68 to share eighth place with Britain's Lee Westwood, American Tom Pernice junior, Australia's Robert Allenby and Paraguayan Carlos Franco.
World number one Tiger Woods, chasing a record fifth title at the event, got to four under with three holes to play before bogeying seven and eight for an opening 70.
South African Els has always felt comfortable at Bay Hill, and has played the tournament every year since 1993.
"Overall, I think the course really suits my game," the 36-year-old told reporters. "I can reach most of the par fives in two.
"The 16th hole is an eagle opportunity if you get a good drive," added Els, who birdied the par-five hole on the day. "It sets up well for my normal game."
Woods, who has won three times in his first five tournaments of the year, offset a birdie on 14 with a bogey on 18 to reach the turn in level-par 36.
He then picked up shots at the first, third, fourth and sixth before losing ground with his faltering finish.
The 10-times major winner three-putted for bogey at the par-three seventh and also dropped at the par-four eighth, where he drove into the left rough.
Among the other big names playing in the 12th event on the 2006 PGA Tour, world number three Retief Goosen of South Africa carded a 69 and second-ranked Vijay Singh opened with a 69.