Nedbank Golf Challenge

Els rekindles Sun City romance

2010-12-01 22:19
Ernie Els (Gallo Images)
Sun City - World number one Lee Westwood will be feeling the heat in more ways than one as the Nedbank Golf Challenge gets underway at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.

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It’s cold and wet in England, and the 37-year-old who attributes his rise to the very pinnacle of the sport to a work ethic that has him on a driving range in those kinds of conditions had a long hot round in the pro-am.

And while his form has been impressive since his runner-up spot behind Louis Oosthuizen in the Open Championship in July, despite a lingering problem with a calf injury, he will have the renewed energy of three-time champion Ernie Els to deal with.

“I’d love to win here,” said Westwood of his seventh appearance in a tournament where he was runner-up to Els in 2000 to lose out on the first-ever $2-million purse in golf’s history.

“It’s somewhere I have always enjoyed coming to, it always has a good field and I enjoy the golf course,” he said. “I always enjoy playing in front of the South African galleries, as they’re very passionate about their sport.”

For Westwood, although the Els factor is an important on in his thinking, the fact that he is world number one now has brought him a sense of belief which outweighs the pressures: “There’s no pressure really,” he said. “Being number one in the world comes from playing well. That’s why have worked hard for 17 years – to get to this position.”

There is a sense of destiny for the South Africans in the field though, that can become irresistible when it comes to playing down the stretch with passionate crowds willing them on.

“I have been watching this tournament since I was 11,” said Oosthuizen, “and imagining myself playing it.”

Retief Goosen also watched it from the age of 11 – although that was many years before Oosthuizen started. “I remember watching Raymond Floyd winning it in 1982,” said Goosen.

But Els will be starting for the 17th time, making him comfortably the most experienced player in the field.

“I feel there’s excitement to be back on my part,” he said. “We’ll see tomorrow with the fans how excited they are, but I’m keen to do well again.”

With two victories on the PGA Tour this year, as well as victory in the two-round PGA Grand Slam of Golf, Els’ game has been there or thereabouts for most of the year.

“My game’s really not that far off,” he said, and he’s been working on his putting, which has been giving him the most cause for concern.

“I’ve changed putters in the last week,” he said, “and I’m using one I’ve used a lot in my earlier career, so I’m trying to get some good feelings back.

He also got some advice from Gary Player, and he will be hoping that will push him to the kind of level which saw him to his three titles.
Westwood, on the other hand, will be hoping it won’t.


11h10 - Ross Fisher (UK), Edoardo Molinari (ITA)
11h22 - Retief Goosen (RSA), Ernie Els (RSA)
11h34 - Justin Rose (ENG), Lee Westwood (ENG)
11h46 - Padraig Harrington (IRE), Anders Hansen (DEN)
11h58 - Tim Clark (RSA), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)
12h10 - Miguel A Jimenez (ESP), Robert Allenby (AUS)


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