Hero’s return for Ernie at Muirfield

The Big Easy returned the Claret Jug at Muirfield yesterday, marking the start of his much-talked-about title defence at The Open Championship, defending at the scene of his 2002 victory.


Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo won their Open titles at Muirfield, which is a venue that attracts greatness. Els has seen every manner of golf course in his prestigious career, but this one holds a special place for the 43-year-old, who said: “This one is right up at the top of the list for me, right at No. 1.”


Els heads into the week ranked 13th in the world, and that’s because his game is sharp. He missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open, which would be concerning if he hadn’t won the BMW International Open and finished fourth at the US Open in the weeks beforehand.


“Obviously last week I didn't make the cut at the Scottish Open, but I've played quite a few practice rounds, feel quite good about my game. I feel like I'm striking it nicely,” said Els, who is rumoured to have practiced hard at Muirfield over the last two weeks.


One of only eight players to win both the US Open and British Open twice, Els has the wisdom and experience necessary to compete on a links course.


“Experience, I feel, is a big part in playing these championships. And to know the way to miss it, especially at links courses, there are certain places where you just cannot go.  And I'm sure I've been to some of those places,” he laughed.


“I'm glad where I'm sitting, defending a Major champion after being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Hopefully that monkey is off people's backs, you know, thinking that your career is basically done after you're in the Hall of Fame.”


“The one at Lytham felt so special.  Walking down from the 18th tee right through to the putt that went in, my hair was just standing up.  It was the most amazing feeling I've ever had.  And I think that's because of the fourth one coming,” he said.


The week of his 2002 victory started with doubt, because Els was struggling with his game. This time around he’s feeling good, and ticking all of the boxes for a successful title defence. Here’s to a third claret jug.


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