MELBOURNE: World number two Ernie Els returns to Australia’s Heineken Classic this week where he kickstarted his phenomenal 2002 golf season.
The 33-year-old South African marched off with the Royal Melbourne tournament by five shots which propelled him to six wins worldwide last year including his third major, the British Open at Muirfield.
Els has already made a spectacular start to the new season with US PGA Tour victories in the Mercedes Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii, and he just missed out on a hattrick in Singapore last week.
China’s Zhang Lian-wei prevented Els from claiming his fourth straight tournament with a one-shot victory at the Singapore Masters last Sunday.
The ‘Big Easy’ is up against major champions Nick Faldo, Paul Lawrie and Greg Norman in the European Tour co-sanctioned tournament.
“To win last year’s tournament from start to finish and winning my first tournament for about a year was a huge step,” Els said yesterday.
“To do it on a golf course like Royal Melbourne was a great confidence boost.
“It set me up for the year. From here I went to Doral (Florida) and won and then went to Dubai.
“This year I am in a little different situation. I’ve come here with a bit more confidence. It is always great to come to a golf course like this.”
Apart from his British Open triumph and Heineken Classic, Els also won the US PGA Tour’s Genuity Classic at Doral, the Dubai Desert Classic, the World Match Play title at Wentworth and the Sun City Challenge in South Africa last year.
Els, who began last year ranked number five, carded rounds of 64-69-69-69 for 17-under 271 to the 2002 Heineken Classic ahead of Englishman David Howell and Australians Peter Fowler and Peter O’Malley, all on 12-under 276.
The big-hitting South African believes he is technically better equipped to tackle Tiger Woods for the world number one spot.
“Technically, the swing I have been working on with (coach David Leadbetter) Lead is really starting to work, but I think the biggest stride I have made has been working with Jos.” – AFP