What a difference a year makes for rejuvenated Els
There is one big difference between the Ernie Els who begins his season at the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban today to the one who lost a play-off in the event to fellow South African Branden Grace last year.
Part of the 43-year-old’s luggage this time is the Claret Jug – his constant reminder of a British Open victory at Royal Lytham that reignited his long and glittering career.
Asked what he remembered most about ending 10 years without a major Els said yesterday: “There are quite a few things, but really putting my hands round the Claret Jug again. It’s such a special trophy. I’ve got it here this week and I’ve been taking it everywhere with me – it’s just a wonderful feeling to have it with you.”
Els also has a return to Muirfield to look forward to. It was where his first British Open triumph came in 2002 and in July it will be where he defends the cherished silver trophy. Whether he will still be using a long putter then remains to be seen.
Unless persuaded otherwise, the sport’s governing bodies plan to ban the anchoring of such clubs to the body from the start of 2016.
Future of the game
“There are people that want to look after the game and the future of the game and if they so feel that they need to ban it I’ll go with it, but I’m definitely not for that,” said Els.
“I’ve given my views, so they know where I’m coming from. When I make these comments it’s no shock to anybody. I’m against it, but I want to honour the game, wherever it takes us.”
Pádraig Harrington is back on the course where he made his European Tour debut in 1996, finishing 49th.
“From tee to green I played horrendously, but I got up and down on every single hole possible and holed every single putt that would go in,” he said.
The 41-year-old Dubliner, who failed to make the Ryder Cup last September, has deliberately put on about 20 pounds in recent months to try to climb back to the top of the game.
“There’s many reasons, but it’s very important in this day and age to hit the golf ball a long way,” he added.
“Power is based on speed. I have spent a long number of years working on the speed part of the equation, so since the middle of the summer I concentrated more on the strength part.”
Els partners Belgian Ryder Cup player Nicolas Colsaerts in the opening round at Durban Country Club, while Darren Clarke and Robert Rock, defending champion in Abu Dhabi next week, are also among those taking part.
Volvo Golf Champions The Lowdown
Course: Durban Country Club, South Africa.
Length: 6,732 yards. Par: 72. Field: 33.
Prizemoney: €2 million (€350,000 to the winner).
Layout: This course is 90 years old and has beautiful views over the Indian Ocean with the sea breezes often playing a significant role. The fairways are tight and undulating with many trees and sand dunes waiting to punish those off target. It is a course where the driver is often best left in the bag.
The par five third is the signature hole where players hit off from high above the course into a valley way below.
Strong gusts often come into play here. A good few of the holes are considered short so expect many to shoot low scores.
Last year: Branden Grace beat Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a three-man play-off at the Francourt Links to win back-to-back European Tour victories after winning the Joburg Open.
Type of player suited to the course: The last four South African Opens held here were won by Ernie Els and Tim Clark who carefully plotted their way around. Straight hitting and good wedge play are essential as the forecast winds will make accuracy the key word.
Key attribute: Accuracy.
Weather forecast: Showers and strong breezes all weekend.
Time difference: South Africa is two hours ahead of Ireland.
TV: Sky Sports from 11am today.