Originally created 12/02/05

Els returns, trails Clarke by five shots



SUN CITY, South Africa - Ernie Els got pretty much what he expected from his return to competitive golf 4½ months after injuring his left knee.

"It felt like my first round back," said Els, who shot a par 72 Thursday in the Nedbank Challenge. "I hit some funny shots, but my knee stood up very well."

South African Els, hurt in a boating accident in July, was five shots behind Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland after the opening round.

"It was the good, the bad and the ugly out there," the two-time U.S. Open champion joked. "But at least I never shot myself out of the tournament.

"I didn't do well on the scoring holes - nine, 10 and 14 - because I was in the rough too much. But I had to remind myself not to expect too much."

Clarke shot a 67 to lead American Jim Furyk by one stroke. South Africans Tim Clark and Retief Goosen, and Luke Donald of England were three strokes off the lead at the Gary Player Country Club. Goosen is the defending champion.

Clarke picked up three birdies on the first nine holes and two on the backside. But he thought he could have scored better.

"I had a couple of chances out there," he said. "But the reality is there are no real let-up holes on this course, so I am happy with 5-under with no bogeys.

"Most of the day, I tried to get the ball on to the fairway and just go from there."

Furyk kept it together on the opening nine, shooting an even-par 36. But he added four birdies coming home to shoot 32, the lowest nine of the round.

Some of the game's big names struggled.

American Stewart Cink shot a 73, and fellow American Kenny Perry 76. Spaniard Sergio Garcia had a 74.