Els in danger of missing cut after day to forget

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After a day he would like to forget in a hurry, Ernie Els is in danger of missing his first half-way cut on the European tour for six years.

After a day he would like to forget in a hurry, Ernie Els is in danger of missing his first half-way cut on the European tour for six years.

A favourite for the Qatar Masters here - he is the only player in the world's top 50 taking part - Els managed only a one over par 73 to be joint 81st after the first round. The world No 3, and winner of the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday, trailed the Swede Pierre Fulke, who lies 423rd in the rankings after a slump since the 2002 Ryder Cup, by seven strokes.

Only the leading 70 and ties will go through to the final 36 holes and the South African last failed to do that on the European circuit at the 1999 German Masters, where he was disqualified for not completing his second round following two shots into water. His current run of 58 cuts in a row is second in tour history to Bernhard Langer's 69 between 1991 and 1996.

"I still feel I am swinging well, but I just couldn't get anything going," he said. "If we are looking for excuses I was a bit more flat than I have been and it was just one of those days. I tried, but I just couldn't get the ball close. I can't put my finger on it and I've just got to get fired up for tomorrow."

In front of a sparse crowd Els began with a bogey six, the third round in a row he has failed to start with a par. Then 11 pars in a row came before he left his tee shot to the 186-yard 13th short of the green and failed to get up and down.

It took him until the 18th to get a birdie on his card, chipping dead from the back of the green at the 581-yard hole, but while that did at least spare him finishing the day alongside the amateur from Bahrain, Nasser Yacoob Saleh, it was still his worst score of the year.

Fulke's fellow Swede Henrik Stenson, the Australian left-hander Richard Green and Welshman Garry Houston - 409th in the world - shared second place following 67s, but one bad drive led to Europe's new Ryder Cup captain, Ian Woosnam, tumbling off the leader board.

On a course where he was runner-up in 2000 Woosnam covered his first 14 holes in four under par to be only one shot off the pace early in the day. But at the sixth he hooked into the desert scrub, hit a rock trying to get out, then took a penalty drop and ran up a triple bogey seven.

After a level par 72 Woosnam said: "I got absolutely stuffed. It was 50-50 whether I got the ball on my second shot, but I was just trying to advance it."

Paul McGinley, the only member of last September's Ryder Cup team present, did not drop a shot, but birdied only the par-five first for a 71.

QATAR MASTERS (Doha) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 P Fulke (Swe). 67 R Green (Aus), H Stenson (Swe), G Houston. 68 N Fasth (Swe), D Park, S Scahill (NZ), A Kang (US). 69 D Fichardt (SA), T Wiratchant (ThaI), R Karlsson (Swe), M Lafeber (Neth), F Andersson Hed (Swe), N Sato (Japan), S Kjeldsen (Den), A Groom (Aus), R Gonzalez (Arg), A Pitts (US), M Fraser (Aus). 70 C Rodiles (Sp), A Wall, P Hedblom (Swe), S Hansen (Den), P Hanson (Swe), P McGinley, C Schwartzel (SA), C Devers (US), M A Martin (Sp), J M Lara (Sp), S O'Hara, G Rusnak (US), J Kingston (SA), A Atwal (India), P Lawrie, B Dredge, R Jacquelin (Fr), M Foster, D Drysdale. Selected: 72 P Lawrie, I Woosnam. 73 P Broadhurst, S Lyle, E Els (SA).

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