Open champion Ernie Els believes an opening 63 at the BMW International in Munich sets him up to target another long-awaited victory.

The South African's last win came at Royal Lytham last July when he lifted the Claret Jug for a second time.

Next month he will defend his title at Muirfield, where he won it first time around in 2002, and he feels his game is starting to shape up after an "iffy year".

A good showing at Golfclub Munchen Eichenried on the 25th anniversary of this tournament would position him nicely.

"It seems like it's really a day of scoring today," said the 43-year-old after his nine-under round gave him a one-stroke lead over the quartet of England's Matthew Baldwin, Swede Alex Noren, home favourite Martin Kaymer and Dutchman Robery Jan Derksen.

David Higgins and Peter Lawrie shot rounds of 67 to finish five under par, while Shane Lowry shot a 69.

Gareth Maybin, meanwhile, ended up level par after a 72. 

"If you get into the race, so to speak, early on in the tournament, it's nice to be right in the hunt" - Ernie Els

"If you shoot a really low one, it's nice," Els told "It takes the pressure off the rest of the tournament a little bit.

"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.

"Guys will be shooting tomorrow morning so I probably won't be in the lead by the time I tee off.

"But it's nice to have got a good round under my belt and can start kind of going for Sunday."

Els arrived in Germany on the back of an impressive final-round 69 in the US Open on the punishing Merion course which saw him finish joint fourth on five over.

That followed a joint-sixth place at the BMW Championship at Wentworth last month.

"I've really been working hard at my game," he said.

"Especially obviously going into the US 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."

Els came within just six inches short of equalling the course record as, having reached the 557-yard ninth, his final hole, in two he left his eagle putt agonisingly short and had to settle for a seventh birdie of the day.

He had already eagled the par-five sixth with a brilliant approach of almost 250 yards from the rough to within five feet of the flag at a green guarded by water.

Prior to that he had carded six birdies in his first 11 holes - including a 40-foot birdie at the short second.

Kaymer, the 2008 winner, and Derksen were the afternoon starters who were able to maintain the scoring of their counterparts earlier in the day to sit just one shot back with Baldwin and Noren.

Ryder Cup star Kaymer insisted seeing Els' brilliant score before he had even teed off did not bother him.

"It does't help if you expect yourself to shoot a similar score," said the German.

"Always two or three guys run away but they don't run away for all four rounds.

"The key today was I made a lot of putts. I had a lot of chances on the back nine and I pretty much made all of them.

"I think I put myself in an okay position."

Baldwin, from Southport, was happy he was able to take advantage of the conditions.

"It was a great start but it is as easy as you are going to get it," he said.

"I seem to have found something in my golf swing but taking it to the course is something different altogether."

American Ryder Cup player Dustin Johnson was handily placed in joint ninth after a six-under 66 but Spain's Sergio Garcia could manage only a 71.