Golf: Els revived by Wentworth

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The Independent Online
A MARK of the importance of the Volvo PGA Championship was the state of the world No 1 yesterday and the fact that he was still present. Ernie Els was jet-lagged, suffering from tennis elbow and still waiting to learn whether his US Open trophy was among those stolen from his home in South Africa during a break-in just over a week ago.

The raiders piled up Els' Range-Rover with trophies and memorabilia from his house in George and had flogged off most of their bounty before crashing the car. One man died, another is paralysed and the third was caught fleeing the accident. Els had just left after a three-week break at home to play in Dallas. His fiancee Liezl Wehmeyer - they were engaged two weeks ago - returned to South Africa on Tuesday and is still doing an inventory.

"They took things which weren't really valuable, but which can't be replaced," Els said. "I have recently jacked up the security but they knew we had just left. We won't be moving because I love the place too much. This has happened to everyone back home. We moved down there to have some peace and quiet and get away from the cities."

Having got the rust out of his system in America last week, and hoping to have got over his elbow problem, Els is looking forward to an event in which he has finished second twice, and a venue where he has won three World Match Play titles.

"This is one of my favourite tournaments," he said. "And I just love Wentworth. It is a ball-strikers' course. You have to shape the ball both ways and get it out of the rough. The course is in as good condition as it usually is in October."

Els has been paired for the first two rounds with Colin Montgomerie, who was presented with his fifth Vardon Trophy, for winning the Order of Merit, at the European Tour's annual dinner on Wednesday night.

Montgomerie is currently 41st, well behind the leaders, Jose Maria Olazabal and Els, but a tour record pounds 200,000, out of a purse of pounds 1.2m, is on offer to the winner here. "The Order of Merit does not mean so much now, but it is one of those things that will be hard to let go," said the Scot. "If I am going to retain it again, then I have to start winning and there is no better tournament to win than this."

To do that, Monty feels he must beat Els. "Any time I play with Ernie, I want to beat him. We have a friendly rivalry and tend to spur each other on." But the South African had a different view. "If he beats me and I finish 50th, it won't help Colin too much."

The three-times winner, Bernhard Langer, intends to play despite hitting balls for the first time in eight days yesterday. The German had to withdraw from last week's Benson and Hedges International but a week of heat treatment and massages on his neck and back have eased the problem. "I'm still sore, but I'm hoping it will get better as the week goes on," he said.

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