After a day he would like to forget in a hurry, star attraction Ernie Els is in danger of missing his first halfway cut on the European Tour for six years.

A red-hot favourite for the Qatar Masters in Doha - he is the only player in the world's top 50 taking part - Els managed only a one over par 73 to be joint 81st after the first round.

The world No 3, winner of the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday, trails Swede Pierre Fulke, 423rd in the rankings after a nightmare slump since the 2002 Ryder Cup, by seven strokes.

Only the leading 70 and ties tonight go through to the final 36 holes and the South African last failed to do that on the European circuit at the 1999 German Masters, where he was disqualified for not completing his second round following two shots into water.

His current run of 58 cuts in a row is second in tour history to Bernhard Langer's 69 between 1991 and 1996.

Hartlepool's Graeme Storm had an up and down finish with three birdies and three bogeys over the last seven holes.

He dropped a shot on the par five first, but birdied the fifth, 11th and 12th to be up among the leaders before his mixed fortunes at the end. Storm is tied 38th, one under par and two shots better off than Els.

''I still feel I am swinging well, but I just couldn't get anything going,'' said Els, who is thought to have been paid well in excess of the £129,917 first prize to participate.

''If we are looking for excuses I was a bit more flat than I have been and it was just one of those days.

''I tried, but I just couldn't get the ball close. I've just got to get fired up for tomorrow.''

In front of a sparse crowd - only about 50 people were watching as he teed off - Els began with a bogey six.

Then came 11 pars before he left his tee shot to the 186-yard 13th short of the green and failed to get up and down.

It took him until the 18th to get a birdie on his card, chipping dead from the back of the green at the 581-yard hole, but it was still his worst score of the year.

Fulke's fellow Swede Henrik Stenson, Australian left-hander Richard Green and Welshman Garry Houston - 409th in the world - share second place following 67s, while Ian Woosnam had a triple bogey in his 72.