Thongchai leads Els, Oosthuizen by three at Volvo Champions

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January 10, 2013

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) -- Thongchai Jaidee celebrated his first competitive round in South Africa with a 7-under-par 65 and a three-stroke lead on the opening day of the Volvo Champions on Thursday.

The former Thai Army paratrooper birdied six of his first 10 holes to end the day three shots clear of a pair of South Africa's major winners, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.

Els, a two-time South African Open winner on the same Durban Country Club course, showed his fondness for the layout on the Indian Ocean shoreline in birdieing his first three holes. Then he double-bogeyed the fourth and finished with a 4-under 68. Oosthuizen went out in 1 under and finished with three birdies in his 68.

Double U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen, who lost in a playoff a year ago, returned to competition after a five-month layoff following back surgery to record a level-par 72.

Further down the leaderboard, at 75, were Darren Clarke, Matteo Manassero and defending champion Branden Grace.

The heatwave conditions earlier in the week were replaced by cooler weather, and rain in the afternoon meant just 14 players in the 33-man field broke par.

Thongchai qualified for the elite field of European Tour champions by winning the Wales Open, his fifth title on the tour.

His main goals this year are to rise from 80 into the top-50 rankings and return to the Masters.

Thongchai made his Augusta National debut in 2006, missing the cut, and in 2010 injury forced him out after a first-round 74.

"If it's not possible (to make the Masters), we'll try the next time," he said. "It's the most important event of the year for me."

Els was disappointed not to capitalize on his good start.

"I had an unbelievable start but then I was in between two clubs on the fourth tee and I was going to hit a 6 iron and I went to a 5 iron and I basically just made a bad swing on top of the ball," he said.

"I played quite a nice second shot, just stuck it on the green and I hit a putt and thought it was going to be very fast and it wasn't.

"But today was a very difficult day. In 2010 when we played here, it was very wet but there was no wind. You just went for the flags (and he won the Open with a 25-under total).

"But when you have wind and rain on a golf course, it doesn't get much tougher than that." 

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