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After some loose iron play, Ernie Els knows he needs to pick up the pace. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
After some loose iron play, Ernie Els knows he needs to pick up the pace. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Harrington and Donald start strong, but Els is upset

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Padraig of Harrington of Ireland and Luke Donald of England were pleased with their first trips around Carnoustie, even though the closing holes were tough on both of them. Ernie Els, meanwhile felt like his iron game let him down on Thursday.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (PA) -- Three of Europe's big hopes for ending a 31-major victory drought enjoyed solid opening rounds in the Open Championship Thursday at Carnoustie.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington recorded a 2-under 69, Luke Donald a 1-under 70 and Nick Dougherty an even-par 71 to stay in the hunt to become the first European major champion since Paul Lawrie here eight years ago.

"I'm very pleased with the score, I did a lot of good things all the way through," said Harrington, who was equally pleased to see Ryder Cup and World Cup teammate Paul McGinley card a 67. "It's hard to lead a tournament like this for three or four days, so I'm in a good position and 69 is a good return. Just have to keep doing more of the same."

World No. 9 Donald looked on course for something even better when he stood 3 under with three to play, but the 29-year-old fell foul of the tough closing stretch with bogeys at the 16th and 18th.

"I played fine today," Donald said. "There were some good opportunities for birdies early on but the back nine, and in particular the 12th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th are very tough holes and I started to hit a few wayward shots coming down the stretch.

"I had to hit a driver, then a 3-wood on the (499-yard, par-4) 18th and was still 15 yards short," he explained. "But under par in a major is never bad, it's a good steady start. I'm disappointed I didn't hit better shots down the stretch but overall pretty pleased."

Dougherty, who led after the first round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont and went on to finish seventh, has now played an amazing 21 rounds at Carnoustie without shooting over par.

"I'm keeping the dream alive," he joked. "Level par is a good start considering I wasn't fully on my game. The finish here can easily take three or four shots off you. I'm very pleased with my position."

Meanwhile, World No. 4 Ernie Els of South Africa vowed to work on his iron play after being disappointed with his 1-over 72 in the first round. The South African bogeyed his last two holes -- his third and fourth dropped shots of the day -- to fall off the first page of the leaderboard.

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"I didn't have a great rhythm on my iron shots a lot and that held me back because I felt the course was out there to really make a good score," said the 37-year-old. "I have to get my iron shots more on target and take it from there because I'm really striking my putts well and I hit a lot of good putts that didn't go. But I will go work on my iron shots.

"It wasn't a great finish but it (his score) is what it is. I actually thought the course was quite easy so I'm a little bit disappointed with my score as I felt I could shoot under par today," he added.

"I haven't shot myself out of it but I need to pick up the pace. I have an early time tomorrow; hopefully it (the weather) is half-decent, not like this morning," he said. "I need to get going tomorrow and start getting myself into the tournament."

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