Hong Kong: Ernie Els played himself firmly into contention at the Hong Kong Open Thursday, but defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez was happy just to get round after a bout of food poisoning.
Organisers have billed the $1.3 million tournament as a battle between four-time major winner Els and Spanish veteran Jimenez, who is looking for his third straight win in the Chinese city.
The crowd-pulling pair endured contrasting fortunes during their opening round over the par 70, 6,699-yard course at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
An ill Jimenez struggled to a two-over-par 72 while South Africa`s hall of fame Els scored 66 to lie just two shots behind leader Jyoti Randhawa of India.
"I`ve been sick all night, vomiting, and I got no sleep," said Jimenez, who admitted to having to visit the woods at one point during his round.
"I ate something that my body reacted badly to. Maybe it was the seafood, maybe it was the meatballs, but I had no chance at all today.
"It`s a pity and wasn`t the best start but I tried to do my best. I`m a professional and I came here to play even though my body was telling me not to," he added.
The 50-year-old, who is still hopeful of this week becoming the first player to win the Hong Kong Open five times, was in obvious discomfort as he traded three bogeys with a birdie.
"It was hard to get round," said Jimenez, who won the title in 2004, 2007 and 2012 before last year`s victory.
"There are a couple of tough slopes out there and I was almost down on my hands and knees," he added.
Els bogeyed the first but bounced back with six birdies against another dropped shot to finish four-under for the day, along with big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and seven others."On the front nine you would`ve thought I was a seven handicapper but I pulled it together and played much better on the back," said Els, competing in the Hong Kong Open for the first time.
"You want to have a good round the first day because it`s easy to shoot yourself out of it and there`s a lot of pressure," he added, before offering his sympathies to Jimenez.
"I feel for Miguel. I`ve had that over here and it`s not a lot of fun. But it`s not about me against him. There are 55 in the field," said Els, who celebrates his 45th birthday on Friday.
Unheralded Randhawa, ranked 462 in the world, fired the round of the day with his 64.
"For me it`s really awesome," he said. "I really putted my heart out so I`m very happy with the way it went."
The Indian is one shot ahead of Filipino Angelo Que.
However, it was an utterly miserable day for Asia`s sole major champion, Y.E. Yang, who signed for a six-over-par 76, which included three double-bogeys.
The South Korean, winner of the 2009 PGA Championship, needs a miracle in Friday`s second round if he is to make the weekend.
The Hong Kong Open is the penultimate event of this season`s European Tour and is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.