Els shows old form at Harbour Town

Hilton Head Island, April 14:

The Big Easy is making it look, well, easy again.

Ernie Els showed the form that won him three major titles — and had gone missing for most of the past two seasons — in the Verizon Heritage on Friday, shooting his second straight 6-under 65 to take a three-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly.

Els still ranks fifth in the world, but has struggled since surgery to repair a ruptured knee ligament in 2005. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in nearly three years and flamed out at the Masters last week, missing the cut at a major for the first time since the 1999 PGA Championship.

Now, the 37-year-old South African is back to his usual laid-back style. Els hasn’t made too many mistakes so far. He’s had only one bogey in the first two rounds. He held his ground starting on the more difficult back nine before he pounced on the birdie-rich front side with a stretch of four in five holes.

By the time he tapped in for his final birdie on No 9, Els was five shots in front of the field — and a stroke off the tournament’s 36-hole scoring mark set by Jack Nicklaus in 1975 and matched by Phil Mickelson in 2002.

Kelly bogeyed two of his first four holes. He fought back to 10 under, two behind Els, before closing with a bogey on No 18. Zach Johnson continued his Masters’ victory tour with a 68 that moved him to 4 under. Johnson is the first Masters winner to play the Verizon Heritage since Vijay Singh in 2000.

Jim Furyk, the runner-up last year, shot a 73 to miss the 1-over cut by a stroke. It was his first missed cut in nine events this season. Davis Love III, the five-time Verizon Heritage champ, shot a 2-under 69, marking the 12th straight time he’s had at least one sub-70 round here.