MUNICH, Germany -- Ernie Els took the lead in the first round of the BMW International Open on Thursday after an eagle and seven birdies steered him to a 9-under 63.
The South African, who won the British Open in 2002 and 2012 and the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997, almost had a second eagle at the last that would have equaled a course record.
Still, he was content with a two-putt birdie that gave him a one-stroke lead.
"It doesn't really mean much until Sunday. But getting into the race, so to speak, early on in the tournament is nice, to be right in the hunt," Els said.
Matthew Baldwin of England, Sweden's Alex Noren, Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen and Germany's Martin Kaymer, who delighted the home crowd in the afternoon by finishing with three successive birdies, and nine in all, have a share of second place after carding 64s.
"I had a lot of chances on the back nine and I pretty much made all of them," said Kaymer, who won this tournament in 2008.
Baldwin and Noren both had eight birdies in the morning, while Derksen had six, as well as an eagle in the afternoon.
English pair Matthew Nixon and Tom Lewis, along with Alexander Levy of France, are tied for sixth, one stroke further back.
"Hats off, it was just everything went right, holed a lot of putts and that's that, really," Nixon said. "I had two eagles and my dad is always telling me I'm rubbish at par-5s so hopefully he'll feel better about that."
Els finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open last week and had a share of sixth place at the Wentworth Club in his previous two tournaments.
"I've really been working hard at my game," the 43-year-old said. "I could feel that things were coming around a bit. I've had a bit of an iffy year up to now, but I really feel that my swing feels good and my body feels good, so I can swing the club properly."
Els started at the 10th, and fired five birdies in the outward 31. He holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the short second, before doing brilliantly on the par-five sixth.
Despite finding himself in the rough facing a flag guarded by water, he drove the ball almost 250 yards to within five feet of the hole, before putting for the eagle.
"It's just a pleasure to play, not to go through a torture chamber like I did at the U.S. Open. So, a nice start," Els said.
American Dustin Johnson was among a group of 10 to finish with 6-under 66s, including South Africa's Brandon Stone on his professional debut.
"I drove it well, hit it well. I holed a couple putts but I missed quite a few short ones," said Johnson, who managed six birdies.
"I'm happy with where I'm at right now and I'm looking forward to coming back in the morning and playing better."