2002 Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa and Spain’s world number number nine Sergio Garcia are tied for the clubhouse lead with five other players in the 2006 Open Championship, after carding opening rounds of 68 at the historic Hoylake links on the Wirral.

Els fired six birdies and singled out his tee shot on the par-3 13th as the highlight of his round, while Garcia flew out of the blocks by reaching the turn in 30. Both players will be delighted at their opening scores, which has put them in a strong position already.

“This is a great course, and you have to be right on your game here,” Els reflected after making par on the final hole.

“If you’re slightly off target you’ll find a bunker. It’s a real old-fashioned links test, which everyone knows I love. I don’t feel I played my best today, so I am very happy indeed with my score.”

Garcia said that he was grateful to be able to take advantage of the ease in the course’s firmness following the overnight rain.

“The course is much softer than earlier in the week,” he revealed.

“On Monday it was drier than any course I’ve ever played. I’m grateful that I teed off early today as it’s hot and the course will dry out quickly.”

Both men are joined on -4 by Marcus Fraser (Aus), Mikko Ilonen (Fin), SK Ho (Kor), Mike Hensby (Aus) and Mike Weir (Can). Masters champion Phil Mickelson is also on -4 but has several holes still left to play. Other highlights so far include a 3 under-par 69 by England’s Lee Westwood and a solid start by American Fred Couples, who fired a 2 under-par round of 70.