Golf: Els earns lead as rest pays off: Mercedes German Masters

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The Independent Online
ERNIE ELS compiled a nine-under-par 63 in the opening round of the Mercedes German Masters at Motzener See, near Berlin, yesterday to finish the day one ahead of the Englishman Russell Claydon.

While the 24-year-old South African was fresh after missing last week's Lancome Trophy, his playing partner, Colin Montgomerie, looked tired after nearly two months without a break, managing only a 73.

Els said he was reaping the benefits of playing in fewer events. 'I played too many tournaments last season and this year I've not been playing any more than four successive weeks,' he said.

Els also had some advice for Montgomerie: slow down. 'He has now had eight (tournaments) in a row and that's too many. He should not chase that pound so much. He's had a great year.'

Montgomerie, the European No 1, flew to Germany to try to seal his second successive Order of Merit title. With pounds 602,000 he is more than pounds 180,000 clear of second-placed Bernhard Langer, but the Scot is appearing in only two of the three remaining events, whereas Langer - round in 69 today - has entered them all.

Els, establishing a record for the new course, played the back nine first in a three-under-par 32, then covered the outward half in a six- under 31. He sank a 30-foot eagle putt on the 487-yard eighth and he thenhit an 80-yard pitch to 12 inches at the ninth for his eighth birdie.

Claydon has scored more birdies in Europe this season than anybody else - 349 after 10 more here - but lies only 40th in the Order of Merit. 'I must be top of the bogey table as well as the birdie one,' he said. He was also nine under with two to play, but failed to get up and down from beside the green at the short 17th.

Seven players lie joint third following 66s: the defending champion Steve Richardson; Peter Baker; Peter Mitchell; Des Smyth; Vijay Singh; Jose Coceres; and Adam Hunter. Sandy Lyle, outscoring his playing partner, Nick Faldo, by two, is in the group on 67.

Seve Ballesteros, second and third in the last fortnight, was four under after only three holes, but had to be content with a 68, as did Ian Woosnam.

Meanwhile, the Aberdeen-based Geordie, Craig Cassells, was fined pounds 200 after his 71 for forgetting to smooth out his footprints in a bunker he had stepped into to line up a shot.

MERCEDES GERMAN MASTERS (Motzener See, Berlin) First-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 63 E Els (SA). 64 R Claydon. 66 J Coceres (Arg), V Singh (Fiji), A Hunter, P Mitchell, D Smyth, P Baker, S Richardson. 67 S Struver (Ger), S Lyle, R Davis (Aus), E O'Connell, S Ames (Trin), J M Olazabal (Sp), A Cejka (Ger), A Binaghi (It), A Bossert (Swit). 68 M Zerman (It), M Farry (Fr), H-P Thul (Ger), A Forsbrand (Swe), S Ballesteros (Sp), S Torrance, S Tinning (Den), R Lee, I Woosnam, M A Martin (Sp). 69 P Fulke (Swe), T Gogele (Ger), C Mason, N Faldo, P-U Johansson (Swe), P Eales, J Van de Velde (Fr), B Langer (Ger), J Lomas, R Boxall, S McAllister. 70 G J Brand, P Curry, A Sherborne, R Chapman, D Cooper, M Sunesson (Swe), S Luna (Sp), J Rivero (Sp), M Davis, J Spence, M Pinero (Sp), E Darcy, A Murray. 71 M Harwood (Aus), J M Canizares (Sp), M Mouland, J M Carriles (Sp), D A Russell, A Sorensen (Den), J Rystrom (Swe), P Mayo, C Cassells, M Lanner (Swe), R Karlsson (Swe), J Hawkes (SA), C Rocca (It), D Hospital (Sp), D J Russell, I Palmer (SA), M James, P O'Malley (Aus). 72 I Garrido (Sp), D Curry, M McLean, P Linhart (Sp), G Turner (NZ), P Way, J Haeggman (Swe), O Karlsson (Swe), W Riley (Aus), R Rafferty, J Robinson, F Regard (Fr). 73 J McHenry, J Hobday (SA), G Levenson (SA), C Montgomerie, P Haugsrud (Nor), T Giedeon (Ger), T Johnstone (Zim), R Berhorst (Ger), S Grappasonni (It). 74 P Lawrie, M Gates, O Eckstein (Ger), R Drummond. 75 F Lindgren (Swe), M A Jimenez (Sp), P Fowler (Aus), A Gillner (Swe). 76 D W Basson (SA). 77 B Marchbank. 78 R Mund (Ger). Withdrew: D W Basson.

(Photograph omitted)