Ernie Els headed to Britain three weeks ago, and the time spent relaxing could be just what the Big Easy needs as he prepares for a run of Links golf, starting with the Scottish Open this week.
ÂRather than beating balls on the range IÂve actually played a lot of social golf with friends at Queenwood and at Wentworth, which made a really nice change. ItÂs kept me pretty sharp and I feel like everything is in good shape going into this next stretch of big tournaments that I have coming up,Â he said.
The three-time major champion has claimed two Scottish Open titles, but not at Castle Stuart Golf Links, which is the 72-hole setting for this week. For Els the venue change might not be a bad thing – with The Open just around the corner, playing on a links course is a special buildup.
ÂEveryone who knows me knows that I love playing golf in Scotland, and especially links golf, so I am excited about returning to Castle Stuart for this weekÂs Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. IÂve won three times in Scotland during my career Â two Scottish Opens and an Open Championship Â and the fans are always so good to me. ItÂs a very special part of the world for me,Â he said.
Els has been in the top-10 in The Open no less than 12 times, including twice in second and twice in third place, plus victory at Muirfield in 2002. And that glittering record doesnÂt necessarily indicate a hero of old Â look back to last year when a 42-year-old Darren Clarke lifted the Claret Jug.
Interesting to note is that in 2003, when Els last took home the Scottish Open trophy, Clarke was the runner-up and finished five strokes shy of the Big Easy.
While that may not be a sign of things to come, it certainly lays bare the possibility of Els claiming another Open victory. And looking back on his career, he certainly has the game. He has twice finished second in the Masters and twice in third place in the USPGA. His US Open record includes victories in 1994 and 1997 and he has won the World Match Play Championship seven times. He also spent a record 756 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
The main point is not his record, itÂs his demeanour, especially over the next few weeks when Els will tackle some of golfÂs biggest events. Putting under pressure has clearly been a concern for him this season, but taking time to relax and rediscover his game could prove the most valuable practice of all.
ÂThis week signals the start of a really strong stretch of tournaments for me, with the Scottish followed by the Open Championship, then the RBC Canadian Open, the WGC Â Bridgestone Invitational and straight after that the USPGA Championship. IÂm feeling very refreshed after my break and basically I canÂt wait to get started. IÂm seriously motivated to play some great golf,Â he said.