Things easier for Ernie at Wyndham

Ernie Els traded one kind of pressure for another on Thursday and things started going better for the Big Easy as he found himself two strokes off the first round lead in the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Els carded a five-under-par 65 at the Sedgefield Country Club to trail Jeff Quinney and Tommy Gaines by two, with Paul Casey in third at six-under-par.

Els has been battling with his game – particularly his putting – and he missed the cut in last week’s PGA Championship on the tough Atlanta Athletic Club course. “I had a bit of a tough time there, I missed the cut,” he said.

“But I really enjoyed the course last week but, it was a really kind of a beast compared to this old lady,” he added.

And it was his putting that seemed to be coming back to him as he continued the process of adaptation to the belly putter – a process that has become increasingly significant after Keegan Bradley’s major victory with one at the PGA Championship.

“I really found something in my set-up because with the belly I’ve been a little awkward,” he said. “It feels a lot more comfortable and I can keep the putter lower through the ball. From an awkward stance it was difficult to do that. Now my stance is better. I made some nice putts today. I feel comfortable on the greens now so we’ll see.”

Els, who went into the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour last year leading the rankings, finds himself under the pressure now of having to play his way into the top 125 players who will get to battle it out for a share of the big money on offer as the US season comes to its climax.

He is in 126th spot, trailing Camilo Villegas by .437 of a point. “My playoffs have started this week, you know, because if I don’t play well this week I’m not advancing,” he said. “It’s hard not to think about it. There’s quite a bit of pressure on us guys lower down the field.”

Behind Els, Retief Goosen, who is probably safe for the playoffs in 106th position, carded a three-under-par 67 to share 26th position, and Trevor Immelman, in 100th and also safe, was one-under through the first round.

For Els, the battle has just begun, but it has begun well. “It’s a long way to go and it’s a nice way to start and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week,” he said.

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