VANCOUVER (AFP) - American Kris Blanks fired a three-under-par 67 on Thursday to take a one-shot first-round lead at the Canadian Open over a big group of players including South African Ernie Els. Els was joined on two-under 68 by Matt McQuillan, who was the best of 17 Canadians in the field. Americans Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover -- playing together in softer morning conditions -- all carded 69s to stand among a group of nine players two shots off the pace. While the leaderboard was crowded, only 21 players were under par on the tight, tree-lined Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club layout where the dense rough drew comparisons to the US Open. Blanks teed off in the morning, when the course was still soft after overnight rain. But even then he said the task wasn't easy. "I can't see any day this course is going to be easy," Blanks said. "It's definitely going to be national championship style, where pars are good, and when you get in trouble just make sure you don't get anything over bogey." Els, who missed his fourth cut in five events at last week's British Open, wasn't complaining despite the difficulty. "This is the way a national open should be," said Els, who is in search of his first top 10 finish of the season. "It should be played as tough as possible on a very stern test." Americans Sean O'Hair, Ben Crane and Chad Campbell were also among the group on 69. O'Hair got as low as four-under before bogeys at his last three holes. That included the par-five seventh, which was playing the easiest of all the course's holes. "With the greens soft, you can stay aggressive, but at the same time that makes the rough healthy," said Fowler. "This is as easy as it's going to play." World number one Luke Donald of England was just happy to be among 14 players at even par. Donald, who missed the cut at the British Open, double-bogeyed two of his first four holes. He rebounded with five birdies, including three straight on his back nine, before a late bogey. "It was a good grind back after a tough start," said Donald. "They're not the widest fairways and the penalty for missing them is very severe. The rough is as thick as we've seen all year and that adds a little pressure on the tee because you know you have to hit the fairway to have a chance to reach the green." England's Paul Casey, ranked 15th in the world, opened with a six-over 76, while Canada's Mike Weir, a former Masters champion who has fallen to 475th in the rankings, carded a 74.