Karlsson carded a first round 65, six under par, at Crans-sur-Sierre to share the lead with world number two Els, one shot ahead of 49-year-old duo Mark McNulty and Eduardo Romero, Paul Eales, Norway’s Henrik Bjornstad and France’s Marc Farry.
That was the same score he started with 12 months ago on his way to a four-shot victory and fifth European Tour title, and a repeat on Sunday would go some way to make up for the disappointment of last week.
Karlsson led by two shots going into the final round of the BMW International Open in Munich but struggled to a closing 74 and share of eighth place as Lee Westwood claimed his first win in almost three years.
But the 6ft 5in Swede is benefiting from a more laid-back approach and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere high up in the Swiss Alps.
“Even if you are two over par when you reach the seventh tee you get a big smile on your face,” said Karlsson, who was referring to the spectacular views across to the Matterhorn but could also have been meant the eagle two he secured by driving the green on the short par four and holing from 30 feet.
This week sees the start of the Ryder Cup qualifying process and Karlsson would love to claim the £185,000 first prize and take a big step to securing his place in the team after missing out by one place in 1999.
That is no concern for Els of course, although he will be playing in the Ryder Cup-style Presidents Cup between America and a Rest of the World side in South Africa in November.
Els has won five times already this season and currently tops the Order of Merit, but admitted his hectic schedule was catching up with him.
The 33-year-old won twice in Hawaii in February, then finished second in a tournament in Singapore, won twice more in Australia before flying back to California for the World Matchplay and then back to Dubai for the Desert Classic.
“I think I’ll change my schedule next year,” said Els.
“By the end of the year I’ll have played 27 or 28 and I’ll probably cut back a bit. I can feel my energy is not quite the same as it has been and that’s why I’ve been coming out a bit later to tournaments.”
Between them McNulty and Romero have more than 40 years experience on the European Tour and are looking forward to the lucrative US Seniors Tour. McNulty reaches the qualifying age of 50 next month and Romero next July.