Golf: English summer is a joy for Els

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GIVEN THAT Colin Montgomerie, a father of three, always credits time with his family between tournaments as an important factor in his many victories, the effect of fatherhood on Ernie Els is eagerly awaited at the Volvo PGA Championship here.

Liezl Els gave birth to a daughter on Wednesday afternoon, a first child for the couple who married on New Year's Eve. "He will be very tired and very excited," said Montgomerie of the South African they call the `Big Easy'. "He will either win by 10 or miss the cut.

"Knowing his very uptight attitude," Monty added with lashings of irony, "it will probably be the former."

No one likes being at home more than Montgomerie and the Scot, who won the Benson and Hedges tournament at The Oxfordshire a fortnight ago, is the defending champion at Wentworth. The victory 12 months ago was one of the most satisfying of Monty's career, not least because Els tied for second.

Els, the world No 5, beat Montgomerie to win the first of his three World Match Play titles over the West Course, but has yet to add the PGA crown despite three second places on his last three outings in the event. Indeed, the 29-year-old double US Open winner likes Wentworth so much he has bought a house on the estate.

He and Liezl moved in a month ago and intend to use the place as a convenient base for the summer months. Not only are the connections good to South Africa and the States, but for as mad a sports fan as Els - and there is no more fervent a supporter of his country in the cricket World Cup - this is the only place to be. "Summer in England I think is the best place on the planet," Els positively gushed.

Els played a practice round yesterday afternoon before fetching Liezl and the baby home from hospital. "We've got four possible names but Samantha is leading the pack at the moment," he said. "I was there at the birth and everyone is healthy. Liezl did great. We are really excited about it all."

The PGA roll of honour includes a veritable who's who of the game and Els is not the only player who would like to join the list. "You look at the players who have won this tournament," said Lee Westwood. "It would be a shame if your name was missing. This is the biggest event in Europe outside the Open."

Westwood yesterday played for the first time since the weekend and did not require any painkillers. A painful right shoulder led to the 26-year- old being unable to play at The Oxfordshire and missing the cut last week in Germany.

"I felt the shoulder a bit but it never hindered me," Westwood said. "It is getting better each day." The actual problem remains a mystery but Westwood was just relieved a broken bone or torn muscle were ruled out. "They think it is connected to the virus I had at the Masters attacking the nervous system.

"If I was a normal person in an office I probably would not have felt anything, but I happen to use my shoulders a lot in my office. The good thing was that they said I could not do any more damage by playing, and that it might help speed up the healing process. I haven't played much recently which is why I didn't play so well in Germany, but I haven't had a chance to get into a rhythm. These next few tournaments I'm looking to get into a rhythm for the US Open.

Westwood is one of six players at the top of the Ryder Cup points list that the captain, Mark James, expects to qualify for September's match against the Americans. The others are Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Darren Clarke and Sweden's Jarmo Sandelin. "There are a lot of players fighting over the last four places and that's good for me because whoever gets in will have to be in good form in August," James said.

With a purse of pounds 1.3m on offer, the highest on the European tour, someone could make a big move this week. The good news for the likes of Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, two former PGA champions struggling to make the team, is that Tiger Woods and Nick Price are not here to scoop the biggest prizes, as they did in Germany last week.

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