Els in Masters contention

2006-04-07 21:27
Augusta - Ernie Els jumped into contention for his first Masters title with a sizzling front nine on Friday while leader Vijay Singh and defending champion Tiger Woods prepared to begin their second rounds.

Els birdied the par-5 second, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth holes for a front-nine 33 and made the turn at four-under par overall, one stroke off the lead Singh established on Thursday with a five-under par 67 opening round.

Singh and Woods, who opened with a 72, were about to begin their second rounds as afternoon breezes began swirling around Augusta National Golf Club, adding another element of danger to a lengthened course already playing tough.

Five top-six finishes

Els won the 2002 British Open and captured 1994 and 1997 US Open titles, but has a string of Masters near-misses, his five top-six finishes in the past six years including runner-up to Vijay Singh in 2000 and Phil Mickelson in 2004.

An Augusta victory would leave Els only the PGA Championship shy of claiming a career Grand Slam, a feat achieved by only five golfers in history - Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and South Africa's Gary Player.

Els suffered a left knee injury last July and was out for six months but the 36-year-old South African returned in December to win in South Africa. In February, Els lost to Woods in a playoff at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Goosen, Clarke were two-under

Americans Chad Campbell, three-under on the day through 12 holes, and Rocco Mediate, who opened with five pars, shared second with Els at four-under. Campbell was second at the 2003 PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson, the 2004 Masters and 2005 PGA Championship winner using two drivers this week, birdied both front-nine par-5s like playing partner Els but the American gave back a bogey at the par-4 fifth to stand on three-under.

Two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen and Tim Clark of South Africa plus Americans Rich Beem and Jason Bohn were also on two-under.

Spain's Sergio Garcia, who had played his way into contention with birdies on the second and third holes, took bogeys at six, eight and 10 to fall to one-over.

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