Els hungry for sixth South African Open title

Although it’s still one month away, Ernie Els says he is already turning his thoughts towards a possible sixth South African Open Championship when he returns to defend his title at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate from 24-27 November.

“It’s really nice to come back to a tournament where I have such great memories,” said Els. “The South African Open has always been one of my favourite weeks of the year and it’s a tournament that means a lot to me.”

Apart from his triumph in the 100th playing of the South African Open at Durban Country Club last year, Els has also won the country’s flagship golf tournament on four other occasions: 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2006. Last year he beat countryman Retief Goosen in a dramatic finish that also featured fellow major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.

“Retief, Charl and Louis really piled on the pressure in the final round but it all came down to making the putts when they counted, which is what I managed to do over the closing stretch last year,” recalls Els.

The three-time major champion is without a win this year despite producing several good weeks, but remains optimistic about his prospects.

“Ultimately you always judge things by results and I’m a little disappointed about my year so far,” said Els. “My game is actually in pretty good shape and my play at the Fry’s.com on the PGA Tour recently was encouraging. The key is to always stay patient.”

Victory at the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout would put Els among an esteemed list of multiple past winners. Sid Brews won the SA Open eight times, Bobby Locke nine times and the legendary Gary Player collected a record 13 victories.

With Schwartzel and Oosthuizen away representing South Africa at the World Cup, home-grown young talent such as Thomas Aiken, Jaco van Zyl, Jean Hugo, George Coetzee and Jbe’ Kruger will be looking to step up to the plate. The €1-million South African Open Championship is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and European Tour.

By Michael Vlismas

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