I will not be padlocked to US Tour, says Els

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The Independent Online

Ernie Els, who today begins his attempt to win the World Match Play title for a record sixth time, is in dispute with the PGA Tour in the States over how many of their tournaments he should play each season. Els, a man of the world who knows his own mind, is the wrong person with which to pick a fight.

Ernie Els, who today begins his attempt to win the World Match Play title for a record sixth time, is in dispute with the PGA Tour in the States over how many of their tournaments he should play each season. Els, a man of the world who knows his own mind, is the wrong person with which to pick a fight.

Els, who lives on the Wentworth estate and whose daughter, Samantha, goes to school locally, already plays more than the minimum 15 events in the States. But to play in Europe and Asia, Els is required to get a release from Tim Finchem, the US Tour commissioner.

"I think the need to understand the golfing world has changed," Els said. "There's a world outside America and I'm part of it. You can't start telling me, 'hey, come over here and leave the rest of the world'. It's not going to happen that way. I'm not hurting their tour by playing all over the world."

This season Els will play 17 times on the US Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, with some events overlapping. Els is an honorary member of the European Tour and poised to win the Order of Merit for the second successive year.

But while in America Retief Goosen is considered as a European Tour player and can return to Europe as much as he wants, Els's home tour is down as South Africa. "I am playing one less tournament in the States this year and it has become a big issue," he said.

"It's been on my mind all year with letters flying around. We need to sit down and talk about it. They want me to play over 20 events. If I want to play in Dubai, I need a release and to give them one extra tournament. Just because I have a Tour card over there they can't put a padlock around me. It's not going to work."

Els and Vijay Singh, the world No 1, head the field for the World Match Play, which has been expanded to 16 players. Once again, Tiger Woods is absent, as are Phil Mickelson and Davis Love despite the first prize of £1m.

"It's not that long a flight," said Els, who, admittedly, gets to stay at home. "They should really support world golf, especially when it is called the 'World Match Play' and has the history and the champions it has. I'm not sure of their reasons."

For the first time Els will have to play on the opening day and faces Scott Drummond, the PGA champion. "They have been kind to me in the past giving me a bye but, I guess, we should work for the money," he said.

The format of 36-hole matches will provide intriguing golf. Among the first-round encounters Lee Westwood plays The Open champion Todd Hamilton, Padraig Harrington faces Chris Riley while Singh plays the European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer.

Langer, who missed the cut in September in his only competitive appearance, nevertheless was a deserved winner of the Golfer of the Month award on behalf of the winning team at Oakland Hills.

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