Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Els out in front in rainy Scotland

CHAMPION The South African, who'll defend his British Open crown next week, carded a 64 to lead the pack by two despite interruptions from the skies

AP , LUSS, SCOTLAND

South African golfer Ernie Els lines up his putt shot on the 17th green on the first day's play of the Scottish Open Golf Championships at Loch Lomond on Thursday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Ernie Els shot a seven-under-par 64 to take the lead at the Scottish Open on Thursday, with rain preventing the opening round from being completed.

Els, the defending British Open champion, led by two shots at Loch Lomond over England's David Howell, recovering from a broken arm last year and a shoulder injury this year. Howell shot a five-under-par 66.

Phillip Price continued the form that helped him win the European Open at The K Club on Sunday by shooting a 67 for third place. He was tied with three other golfers.

Late in the day, Colin Montgomerie shot a par-71, saying he "played fantastic but putted like an idiot."

Phil Mickelson, the world's eighth-ranked golfer, and former US Open champion Retief Goosen both shot 76.

Forty-five players were unable to finish the round because rain delayed the start of play by four hours. The players completed the first round Friday morning but could not knock Els off his perch.

Els, coming off a two-week break, said he wasn't looking forward to Thursday after hearing the weather forecast the night before. He parred his first three holes before the players were forced off, then birdied the first three when they returned.

The third of those birdies came at the 15th, his sixth after he started his round on the back nine. He holed from 8.2m there.

He birdied the 18th, his 9th, from 5.5m and added three more birdies on his second nine.

"I made a couple bad swings on the second nine, setting up awkwardly. But all in all it was a good day. I made some good putts," said Els, who will defend his British Open title at Royal St. George's next week.

"I didn't feel too foreign out there. My form is better than last year, I'd like to think. I've put a lot of work into my game, and I feel I'm a better player now," he said.

Howell lost 11 weeks after breaking an arm when he tripped while jogging last year and another seven weeks early this season with a shoulder injury.

But his play has improved in recent weeks and he was second in the French Open two weeks ago.

He said he made good putts on the undulating greens, including swinging efforts.

"And I had a lot of other chances," he said, crediting a change in his set up on the tee for his recent improvement.

Price said the key to his round was his putting. He said he felt more relaxed after his victory on Sunday and more refreshed.

Mickelson double bogeyed the second and third holes. He made successive birdies on the 13th and 11th, then bogeyed two of his last three holes.

US amateur champion Ricky Barnes carded a one-under-par 70 with a birdie at his last hole, the 9th, after he snap-hooked his drive into a tree, from where it bounced back toward him.

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