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Els Two Strokes Back in Singapore

January 23, 2003

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Ernie Els was 5-under par through 15 holes Thursday when rain forced the suspension of play in the first round of the Singapore Masters.

The South African star, coming off consecutive PGA Tour victories in Hawaii, will finish the round Friday morning on the Laguna National course.

Only half of the 144 players completed the round, with England’s Benn Barham topping the leaderboard at 7-under 65.

Barham, beginning his first full year on the PGA European Tour, was a stroke ahead of England’s Paul Broadhurst and Simon Khan and India’s Jeev Milka Singh. Defending champion Arjun Atwal of India was 5 under along with Els, also with three holes to play.

Els, No. 2 in the world rankings, birdied the 15th hole _ his fourth birdie in five holes _ before play was suspended.

``I think maybe I was going to run out of birdies after making four in five holes, so maybe it was a good time to go,″ Els said.

``I still have to get used to the grain on the greens, but I’m satisfied. I’m happy with the way I came back on the back nine.″

Els won the Mercedes Championships by eight strokes two weeks ago, finishing 31 under to shatter the PGA Tour record for relation to par, and added the Sony Open title Sunday with a playoff victory over Australia’s Aaron Baddeley.

The British Open winner has earned $3.81 million in his last three events _ $2 million in the Nedbank Challenge, $1 million in the Mercedes and $810,000 in the Sony.

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