Ernie Els stayed calm on his way to a three-under-par 69 on Thursday in the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but that was perhaps because he had his 2014 schedule on his mind.
His opening round came on Carnoustie, with rounds still to be played on Kingsbarns and the Old Course at St Andrews, ahead of the cut and the final round at St Andrews, and it left him five off the pace set by Richard McEvoy, Alexandre Kaleka, Mark Tullo, Oliver Wilson and Tom Lewis.
“I thought I played quite nicely,” he said. “You know, I was still missing a bunch of putts, but I kind of kept my cool and I got it in with a 69, which is not a bad score, but on a day like this, you can have a 65,66. Hopefully I can keep my cool.”
Els, who won the Open Championship for his fourth major title last year, turns 44 next month, and he talked about scaling down his schedule after completing his round.
“I'm looking at options,” he said. “There’s so much going on now. There are wonderful events, there are a lot of great tournaments in the United States, and then it seems like the European Tour has got some unbelievable tournaments at the end of the year.
“So I’ve really got to take stock here. I feel like I’m really over‑golfed a little bit at the moment, and it’s really coming into my game, and you’ve got to be fresh mentally.
“I’ve got to look at a lot of options. I live in the US now, my kids go to school there, so I’m looking at things. Maybe not as short a season as Steve Stricker played this year, but something shorter.”
In a field liberally sprinkled with South Africans, Els was three off the best of those: rookie Brandon Stone fired an opening 66 at Kingsbarns, a score matched by Garth Mulroy at the same course.
Next best was Darren Fichardt on five-under-par at Carnoustie, and he was joined by Tjaart van der Walt and Keith Horne on the same score – theirs came at Kingsbarns. Also at Kingsbarns were Hennie Otto and Justin Walters, who carded four-under-par 68s, as did Charl Schwartzel at Carnoustie in a round played with Els.
Jaco van Zyl carded a three-under 69 at St Andrews, and Retief Goosen continued his return from injury with a two-under-par 70 at Carnoustie. Jake Roos fired a 70 at Kingsbarns, and defending champion Branden Grace got his defence underway with a 70 at Carnoustie ahead of his second round at Kingsbarns, where he wrapped up the tournament last year with a course record 60.
Trevor Fisher Jnr carded a 70 at St Andrews, while Thomas Aiken was one-under at Carnoustie. James Kingston and Haydn Porteous were level-par at Carnoustie, as were Doug McGuigan and Richard Sterne.
Oliver Bekker and Louis Oosthuizen – returning from a lengthy injury lay-off – were two over at Carnoustie.