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Golf | US PGA Tour

Ernie Els © Gallo Images

Big Easy ready to set record straight



Open champion Ernie Els believes he has a chance to improve his poor record at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, in Florida, United States, starting on Thursday.

Els will be one of seven South Africans teeing it up in the USPGA Tour event – the unofficial 'fifth Major' – and fresh off a second place in Asia last week, the Big Easy could be due for a big win.

“My long game feels in good shape, and if I can get the putter going we might set the record straight this week. That would be nice,” Els said on his website.

The 43-year-old hoped to challenge for the title this week, after a number of years of average finishes at the event.

“I'm back on the PGA Tour for The Players Championship, which is about as big as it gets outside of a Major or WGC event," he said.

“I can hardly believe it but this will be my 20th appearance in this event and I have only four top-10s to show for it. It's hard to put my finger on a reason for that."

A new approach this year, following a Major win less than a year ago, could see a more confident Big Easy turn it around.

“It's a wonderful golf course but there is something about it that I often can't seem to get to grips with. Still, I always look forward to teeing it up here.

“There is obviously a really strong field and it has that buzz of something a little bit special.”

History suggests the bigger hitters are not necessarily at an advantage on the course, with current world No 1 Tiger Woods victorious in just one of 15 attempts.

“The key I think is you have to hit it in the fairways," Els said.

“In fact, when I look back at the times I've struggled here, it is when I haven't driven the ball well enough.”

The design of the course means it is seldom an all-out birdie blitz, and players often need to grind out a score, according to Els.

“Pete Dye's Stadium Course is one of the best-known layouts on the PGA Tour and there is very little margin for error on a lot of the holes.

“You need to be patient and there are moments when you need to play the percentages and make par your friend.”

The other South Africans in the field include 2010 champion Tim Clark, who has seen an improvement in form in 2013, and was the top placed SA player in the Masters, at Augusta, last month.

Two time US Open champion Retief Goosen is down to play after withdrawing from last week's Wells Fargo Championship with a bad hip.

The hip problem was believed to be minor, and a week of rest could see Goosen ready to tee it up at The Players.

Charl Schwartzel, Rory Sabbatini, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen make up the rest of the South African contingent.

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