Els grabs early lead in Germany

Ernie Els continued his impressive play on Thursday and grabbed the first-round lead at the BMW International Open with a 9-under-par 63.

Els, who is coming off a tie for sixth at the BMW PGA Championship and a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open in his previous two European Tour starts, holds a 1-stroke lead over hometown favorite Martin Kaymer, Alexander Noren, Matthew Baldwin and Robert-Jan Derksen.

"I've really been working hard at my game," said Els, a 27-time European Tour winner. "Especially, obviously going into the U.S. Open and really around the PGA at Wentworth, I could feel things were coming around a bit. I had a bit of an iffy year up to now, but I really feel that my swing feels good and my body feels good, touch wood. So I can swing the club, properly."

Germany's Kaymer, who won this event in 2008, birdied six of his final eight holes, including three straight from the 16th, to move into a share of second place at 8-under.

"I just want to put myself in position. It's not so much about really trying to win," said Kaymer, who tied for 59th last week at Merion. "I try to put myself in position on Sunday, and then we will see and I think I will have an advantage with the people here and very good support."

Matthew Nixon, Tom Lewis and Alexander Levy are tied for sixth after opening- round 65s at Golf Club Gut Larchenhof, while Dustin Johnson highlights a group of 10 players knotted in ninth place at 6-under 66.

"I drove it well, hit it well," said Johnson. "I holed a couple putts, but I missed quite a few short ones."

Els began his round on the 10th tee and opened with a par before reeling off a trio of birdies from the 11th. The reigning Open champion added birdies at the 16th and 18th en route to an outward 31.

Around the turn, Els drained a 40-footer for birdie at the par-3 second, then dropped his approach from nearly 250 yards at the par-5 sixth within five feet and knocked that in for eagle.

At the ninth, Els had an eagle putt for a share of the course record, but he settled for a 2-putt birdie and the early outright lead, which lasted through the remainder of the opening round.

"Although you're leading, it doesn't really mean much until Sunday, but if you get into the race, so to speak, early on in the tournament, it's nice to be right in the hunt," said the 43-year-old.

NOTES: Els is seeking his first European Tour win of the season .. Defending champion Danny Willett is part of a large group tied for 50th at 3-under-par 69. He is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of this event and just its third multiple champion (Thomas Bjorn and Paul Azinger).