Twenty years on, Els still at home

Ernie Els (AP)
Ernie Els (AP)

Erin - Twenty years to the day after the second of his two US Open victories, Ernie Els still feels at home in the tournament billed as the toughest test in golf.

The 47-year-old South African veteran carded a respectable two-under-par 70 at Erin Hills on Thursday as he launched his 25th US Open campaign.

It might have been better had it not been for a stumble on the closing two holes of his round, where back-to-back bogeys shunted him down the leaderboard to two under.

Els however was simply happy to remind the galleries that he can still mix it at major championships as his career winds down.

"All in all, I've got to be happy," Els said. "You take a two-under-par in the first round in the US Open, you're right there," said Els, who is five adrift of leader Rickie Fowler, who carded a seven-under-par 65 in tame conditions at Erin Hills.

Els meanwhile revealed that a series of nagging injuries had hampered his performance this season.

"The way I've been scoring has been awful this year," said the four-time major winner, who finished 53rd at the Masters in April.

"But physically I wasn't great. A lot of times I had a couple of niggles and the lower back hip and shoulder and knee. So it's really the first year that I've got experience with that, so it's kind of new."

The presence of a trainer in his entourage this week had boosted his performance.

"I've got my trainer Vern here, and I'm feeling a bit better. So I'm feeling really loose," added Els, who grimaced at being reminded that it was 20 years to the day since his last US Open win at Congressional in 1997.

"Don't write that. Really," he quipped. "My dad actually sent me a photo of us after Congressional.

"It's crazy that 20 years has gone so quickly. In many ways it feels like yesterday. In other ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

"So it's amazing. I'm just blessed to still be playing the game. So nice to still compete."

Scores on Thursday from the 117th US Open at Erin Hills Golf Course, Wisconsin (Par 72; USA unless stated, a-denotes amateur):

65 - Rickie Fowler

66 - Paul Casey (ENG), Xander Schauffele

67 - Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG), Brooks Koepka

68 - Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman (AUS), Adam Hadwin (CAN)

69 - Jamie Lovemark, J.B. Holmes, Lee Westwood (ENG), Andrew Johnston (ENG), Kim Si-Woo (KOR), Scottie Scheffler-a, Jim Furyk, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)

70 - Charley Hoffman, Brandt Snedeker, Ernie Els (RSA), Jack Maguire, Brandon Stone (RSA), William McGirt, Sergio Garcia (ESP), Shane Lowry (IRL), Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG), Jim Furyk, Cameron Champ-a, Derek Barron

71 - Kevin Dougherty, Davis Love IV, Thomas Aiken (RSA), Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera (ARG), Tyson Alexander, Stephan Jaeger (GER), Brendan Steele, Russell Henley, Harris English, Charl Schwartzel (RSA), An Byeong-Hun (KOR), Trey Mullinax, Ryan Brehm, Jonathan Randolph

72 - Martin Kaymer (GER), Branden Grace (RSA), Martin Laird (SCO), Gary Woodland, Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Hideto Tanihara (JPN), Yusaku Miyazato (JPN), Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Yuta Ikeda (JPN), George Coetzee (RSA), Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott (AUS), Bill Haas, Scott Piercy, Justin Rose (ENG), Roberto Diaz (MEX)

73 - Jordan Niebrugge, Kim Meen-Whee (KOR), Aaron Rai (ENG), David Lingmerth (SWE), Michael Putnam, Alex Noren (SWE), Bud Cauley, Russel Knox (SCO), Jordan Spieth, Daniel Miernicki, Tyler Light, Chris Wood (ENG), Satoshi Kodaira (JPN), Daniel Summerhays, Richie Ramsay (SCO), C.T. Pan (TPE), Justin Thomas, Steve Stricker, Maverick McNealy-a, Mason Andersen-a, Alex Smalley-a

74 - Talor Gooch, Ted Potter Jr, Andres Romero (ARG), Li Haotong (CHN), Bradley Dredge (WAL), Hideki Matsuyama (JPN), Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari (ITA), Webb Simpson, Lucas Glover, Joaquin Niemann-a (CHI), Chan Kim, Troy Merritt, Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson (SWE), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Peter Uihlein, Stewart Cink, Kevin Chappell,

75 - Brice Garnett, Paul Dunne (IRL), Chez Reavie, Jason Kokrak, Ross Fisher (ENG), Scott Gregory-a (ENG), Dustin Johnson, Chris Crawford-a, Wade Ormsby (AUS), Oliver Bekker (RSA), Nick Flanagan (AUS), Bubba Watson

76 - Shugo Imahira (JPN), Matt Wallace (ENG), Jason Dufner, Wang Jeung-Hun (KOR), Tyrrell Hatton (ENG), Thomas Pieters (BEL), Jon Rahm (ESP), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Max Greyserman, Coren Conners (CAN), Kyle Thompson, Sean O'Hair, Pat Perez, Wesley Bryan, Roberto Castro, Emiliano Grillo (ARG), Sam Ryder

77 - Daniel Chopra (SWE), Stewart Hagestad-a, Gene Sauers, Joel Stalter (FRA), Matthew Campbell, Sahith Theegala-a, Ben Kohles, Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Jhonattan Vegas (VEN), Alexander Levy, Jimmy Walker, Andy Pope

78 - Ryan Palmer, J.T. Poston, Scott Harvey-a, Brad Dalke, Daniel Berger, Rory McIlroy (NIR), John Oda-a, Roman Robledo

79 - Billy Horschel, Jason Day (AUS)

81 - Danny Willett (ENG), Walker Lee-a, Brian Stuard

83 - Garrett Osborn

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