Golf: Els decides to keep his faith in Europe

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Ernie Els, upset that he was not given a special exemption on to the European Tour this season, may rejoin the circuit after all.

The US Open champion's membership lapsed when he fell one short of the stipulated 11-tournament minimum last year.

But Els, 5-1 favourite for the Heineken Classic starting in Perth today, said yesterday: "I've checked my schedule and it looks as though I may play 11 events this time. If I do, I may as well be a member and be eligible for the Order of Merit.

"I was a little upset as I've tried to help out the tour in the past and thought in return they'd make an exemption for me. But in the long run it doesn't really matter because golf is becoming more international."

Last week's Johnnie Walker Classic in Phuket - where Els lost a play- off to world No 1, Tiger Woods - kicked off the European circuit. This week's event also counts, as do the forthcoming South African Open and South African PGA championships.

Els will play in both of those and has also entered the Dubai Desert Classic and Murphy's Irish Open. He is now making up his mind whether to add the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and, if he does, that and the four majors would take him to the 11.

The former European No 1s Ian Woosnam and Ronan Rafferty were both battling injuries on the eve of the Heineken Classic.

Rafferty was the more worried of the two. The 34-year-old Ulsterman, without a victory for four years, has not been able to hit a shot since Monday because of pain in his left thumb and pulled out of yesterday's curtain-raising pro-am at The Vines. "I'm getting treatment, but if it doesn't improve then I can't see me playing," Rafferty said.

Woosnam returns to the course where he won two years ago. But he does so with a trapped nerve in his finger which he describes as "like toothache".