Els enjoys desert manoeuvres following back-to-basics drive

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The Independent Online

Ernie Els abandoned the search for the perfect round here yesterday. The result was a six-under-par 66 and a one-stroke first-round lead over the Ryder Cup pair of David Howell and Miguel Angel Jimenez in the Dubai Desert Classic.

After missing out narrowly in the majors last year and failing to put the finishing touches to some great play at the start of this season, Els consulted the Belgian sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout on his return from a three-week lay-off.

The world No 3, the only player in the top 15 taking part in the event, said: "We get bogged down trying to play the perfect game, but I got back to basics. The game plan worked out really well. I know the course so well [he is seeking his third win on it and his 61 in 1994 still stands as the record] and I was very aggressive on the back nine. I didn't hit many fairways, but I felt like I hit it solid and it was a good day's work."

The South African has not missed a half-way cut in a European Tour event since 1999 and in his last 35 starts has had no fewer than 29 top-10 finishes.

Sandy Lyle was four under after four holes, but then had a double-bogey seven on the 18th. With Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo being named as the next two Ryder Cup captains, the 46-year-old Scot doubts whether he will ever be given the job now.

"I don't know why they have done two in one fell swoop - they have never done it before and there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge," Lyle said. "Basically, that's it for me now, I think."

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 E Els (SA). 67 M A Jimenez (Sp), D Howell 68 J Lyle (Aus), S Osborne. 69 J Kingston (SA), C Schwartzel (SA), T Bjorn (Den), A Marshall, R Karlsson (Swe), H Stenson (Swe), P Hedblom (Swe), N Dougherty, P Fulke (Swe), P Fowler (Aus). 70 K Ferrie, S Scahill (NZ), P Hanson (Swe), F Havret (Fr), B Curtis (US), J Haeggman (Swe), C Montgomerie, A Hansen (Den), M Olander (Swe), D Mackenzie (Aus), A Forsyth, L Westwood, T Taniguchi (Japan), P McGinley, S Dodd, A Wall, P Sjoland (Swe), R Finch, J Bickerton, M Lafeber (Neth), S Kjeldsen (Den), D Fichardt (SA), S O'Hara, J Donaldson, P Sheehan (Aus).