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Golf | SA

Ernie Els © Gallo Images

Big Easy leads SA challenge at Memorial



Former champion Ernie Els will head the South African challenge at the US PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, starting on Thursday.

The Big Easy said on his website he was eager to rekindle the memories of his victory at the event.

“Winning here in 2004 was definitely one of the highlights of my career,” Els said.

“How much would I love to repeat that? A lot, obviously.

"I've loved this golf course since I first started coming here in the mid-1990s.”

Els has not won anywhere since claiming the SA Open in December 2010, and has not tasted victory in the US since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March earlier that year.

The 42-year-old, however, has boasted an improved game in 2012 and is fresh off a seventh-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club on the European Tour on Sunday.

“I just didn't quite get it going on Sunday, but a five-under-par aggregate and tied seventh was a solid performance in a tournament where I've really not had the best record in the past 10 years.

“I'll take some positives over to Muirfield Village where this week I'll be playing in another of my favourite tournaments, the Memorial.”

Els said the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout fitted his game well – one of the reasons for his success in the event over the years.

“Design-wise I think it suits my eye and the way I see my shots," he said. "It's funny how some courses do that to you and then there are others where it's the total opposite.

“One of the things I really like about Muirfield Village is the fairways are quite generous, so I feel I can be fairly aggressive off the tee.”

Els has been plagued by poor putting throughout his winless streak, and though he has made improvements in that department recently, he maintains his driving off the tee is his strength.

“My driving this year has been one of the real strengths of my game," he said.

"The Callaway RAZR Fit driver that I'm using is working seriously well for me and that is backed up by my stats. I'm the most improved player this year on the PGA Tour for ‘total driving' compared to 2011.”

The 18-time PGA Tour winner made reference to the stellar putting week he had eight years ago, which he will hope to replicate.

“If you can give yourself plenty of opportunities, you can make some putts here because the greens are flawless," he said.

“I had one of the best putting weeks of my life when I won in 2004 – just 100 putts for four rounds, which I think is still a record for this tournament.”

Despite one of the strongest fields assembled in the US this year, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlory, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, Els fancied his chances.

“I feel good about my chances every time I tee it up here. I just need to make a good start to this tournament, kind of establish myself early and then be in a good position going into the weekend's play. Can't wait to tee it up.”

Els will be one of seven South Africans in the field, including Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Trevor Immelman, Garth Mulroy and Rory Sabbatini, who are looking to find form in the run-up to the US Open starting on June 14.

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