Els homes in on £1m and title No 7
Thursday 14 September 2006
Tiger Woods, winner of his last five tournaments, is sure to draw the biggest crowd as the battle for golf's biggest cheque starts at Wentworth today. But Ernie Els wants to remind everybody who has been the dominant figure at the World Match Play Championship over the past 12 years.
Seven of the 16-strong field - five Europeans and the Americans Woods and Jim Furyk, the top two in the world - are looking for the £1m first prize as preparation for next week's Ryder Cup. Els, though, simply wants to taste success again nine months into a year where there has been none.
Sunday will do - especially if it follows a semi-final victory over the world No 1 the previous day. The 36-year-old South African was unable to defend the title last year because of the knee surgery he had undergone following his sailing accident during the summer. But now he is back, only as the sixth seed, but as the man who has lifted the trophy a record six times.
Els has a terrible record in the sport's other Match Play tournament - the one in California each February - but he has won 22 of his 26 games over the West Course since making his debut as US Open champion in 1994.
Woods was not even on the scene then, of course, and Els set a record of 11 victories in a row before he lost the 1997 final to Vijay Singh. If he beats Angel Cabrera in the opening round he will equal that record.
"I think 36-hole match play is different to 18-hole match play," he said. "You've got to play well for a much longer period of time and it gives you the best indication of who is the better player on the day.
"I've always enjoyed that. I've been behind quite a few times in the past and won some matches where I could never have in 18 holes.
"I think another factor is because I'm playing at home [Els lives on the Wentworth estate]. I obviously love sleeping in my own bed - it makes a big change from sleeping in a hotel room."
Colin Montgomerie, four times a winner on the course and hoping to stay on course for a fifth by beating David Howell in the opening round, made the same point, but caused some laughter the way he put it. "I look forward to this event. I stay in my own bed, which is a very rare thing nowadays," he said before quickly adding: "I didn't mean that that way. On my own, on my own."
Wentworth tee-off times
(seeded positions in brackets)
07.36 and 12.06 (1) Michael Campbell (NZ) v (16) Simon Khan (Eng)
07.48 and 12.18 (8) David Howell (Eng) v (9) Colin Montgomerie (Sco)
08.00 and 12.30 (5) Retief Goosen (SA) v (12) Paul Casey (Eng)
08.12 and 12.42 (4) Adam Scott (Aus) v (13) Mike Weir (Can)
08.24 and 12.54 (3) Jim Furyk (US) v (14) Robert Karlsson (Swe)
08.36 and 13.06 (6) Ernie Els (SA) v (11) Angel Cabrera (Arg)
08.48 and 13.18 (7) Luke Donald (Eng) v Tim Clark (SA)
09.00 and 13.30 (2) Tiger Woods (US) v (15) Shaun Micheel (US)
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