The smooth-swinging South African, whose world ranking has plummeted to 229th after recent struggles with his swing and short game, fired a six-under-par 66 in ideal conditions for the opening round at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
It was his lowest score at the PGA Tour's flagship event, which is widely viewed as the unofficial fifth major, since he shot a 65 in the third round of the 1996 Players Championship.
“I haven't treated this course very well and it hasn't treated me very well in the past,” a smiling Els told Golf Channel after recording an eagle at the par-five second, six birdies and two bogeys on a receptive Stadium Course layout.
“On a day like this, the course is in unbelievable shape, the greens are great and the fairways are good so it's really been nice.”
Els, whose recent struggles included a well-publicised six-putt at the first hole of the Masters last month, said he had benefited hugely since re-uniting with his former swing coach, David Leadbetter.
“We worked a bit on Tuesday and yesterday evening and my body feels good,” said the former world number one, a four-times major champion who has not won a tournament anywhere since the European Tour's 2013 BMW International Open.
“I can get into the same positions that I got into in my prime. I couldn't quite do that for a while but now I feel good ... and it felt comfortable today, swing and putter.”
Els, 46, was especially pleased to flourish on the always challenging par-72 layout at the TPC Sawgrass which was designed by golf course architect Pete Dye.
“I've got a love-hate relationship with Pete Dye,” beamed the South African, who is popularly known as the 'The Big Easy'.
“This course has had its way with me so it's nice to get one up on the course. The relationship, we will see how in continues.” – Reuters
Original source: Ernie finds his groove at Sawgrass