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Eagle Els fires 67 to share early Bay Hill lead

Written by: Staff

MIAMI, Mar 16 (Reuters) Ernie Els holed a 50-foot eagle putt at the par-five sixth on the way to a five-under-par 67 and a tie for the early lead in the Bay Hill Invitational first round today.

The world number five, who teed off at the par-four 10th, also collected three birdies in a blemish-free display at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida.

Champion in 1998, Els finished level with American Ben Curtis, who mixed six birdies with a solitary bogey at the par-three 14th.

South African Els has always felt comfortable at Bay Hill, and has played the tournament every year since 1993.

''Overall, I think the course really suits my game,'' the 36-year-old told reporters. ''I can reach most of the par fives in two.

EAGLE OPPORTUNITY ''The 16th hole is an eagle opportunity if you get a good drive,'' added Els, who birdied the par-five hole on the day. ''It sets up well for my normal game.'' Spaniard Sergio Garcia fired a seven-birdie 68 to share third place with Britain's Lee Westwood, American Tom Pernice junior and Paraguay's Carlos Franco.

Canadian Mike Weir, the 2003 US Masters champion, was among a group of six tied for seventh on 69.

World number one Tiger Woods, chasing a record fifth title at Bay Hill, got to four under with three holes to play before bogeying seven and eight for an opening 70.

Woods, who has won three times in his first five tournaments of the year, offset a birdie on 14 with a bogey on 18 to reach the turn in level-par 36.

He then picked up shots at the first, third, fourth and sixth before losing ground with his faltering finish.

The 10-times major winner three-putted for bogey at the par-three seventh and also dropped at the par-four eighth, where he drove into the left rough.

Fiji's world number two Vijay Singh and third-ranked Retief Goosen of South Africa were among the late starters.


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