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Leader Immelman comes under fire

ST LEON-ROT, Germany (Reuters) -- Trevor Immelman recent switch to a 'belly-putter' helped him fire seven-under 65 for a share of the first round lead in the Tournament Players Championship of Europe.

But South African compatriot and world No. 3 Ernie Els, trailing Immelman, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Britain's David Howell by two strokes, was not impressed.

Els caused controversy at the German event when he urged golf's rule-makers on both sides of the Atlantic to ban the belly-putter.

Els has suffered putting problems recently but said he was not interested in following suit.

"I'm not interested in the belly-putter. It should be banned," he said. "I think nerves and skill in putting is part of the game and you should take a tablet if you can't handle it.

"It's become such an easy way to putt. You push the putter into your body and then you can make a perfect stroke.

"I've seen Vijay (Singh), who's a very good friend of mine, using it when we've practiced together and it just doesn't seem right."

Els said he had spoken to Peter Dawson, the Royal and Ancient's Europe chief executive, only this week about the issue and added: "I've not given up hope the belly-putter will be banned. The R and A and the USGA are looking at it right now."

While Els has tried a new approach with his putter this week, looking at "striking the ball 100 percent instead of trying to hit the perfect putt all the time," Immelman was full of praise for the belly-putter.

"I came back to the British Masters and started messing around with the belly-putter after being inspired by Vijay (Singh) at New Orleans, holing all those putts down the stretch," said 24-year-old Immelman, who is aiming to move himself higher in the world rankings than his current 53rd.

"I've been able to sustain my good play tee-to-green and now roll in a few putts. The belly-putter is anchored to your stomach, the thing has to swing like a pendulum, so it has to release naturally."

Colin Montgomerie, arguably the tour's most renowned fan of the belly-putter, refused to comment on Els' views after shooting a 75.

Defending champion Padraig Harrington, blaming putting inadequacies on his round of 70, in which he needed 35 putts, said: "I think it's (the belly-putter) horrible and I can't see how you putt with it.

"The putter is anchored so I can understand the concern. If they ban the belly-putter, though, should they also ban the chest and chin putter? I think it would hurt a lot of people."

Immelman, in search of a second European Tour win of the year, Havret and Howell, lead by a stroke from Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, Robert-Jan Derksen of the Netherlands, South African-raised Briton Alan McLean and Germany's Marcel Siem.

Olazabal was hoping his first round foray was not another false dawn, having missed his last three cuts in Europe and slumped to 157th in the world.

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