Ernie Els to treat SA Open as a major

Ernie ElsDURBAN (15 December 2010) – The South African Open tees off its 100th playing at Durban Country Club on Thursday, with Ernie Els declaring he is treating this one as he would a Major.

And with three Major champions in the field in Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen, it has all the makings of a memorable week.

“I think all the South African players are really looking forward to it. We’re proud of this championship and play it as if it’s a Major,” Els said on Wednesday.

For the first two rounds, the four-time winner of the SA Open will be in the same threeball as two-time champion Tim Clark, who he has labelled as the clear favourite this week.

“Tim is the home favourite. This course suits him down to a tee. He’s also won twice here so has a lot of confidence, and I think he will have good local support.”

Els said the significance of the 100th playing is what convinced him to forego his holiday this week and make an appearance.

“I wasn’t going to play and wanted to take the holiday instead. But then I felt it would be the right thing to come to the 100th and play, especially on a grand golf course like this. The 100th only comes around once in a lifetime, and the SA Open is very special to me.”

The championship did indeed help to launch Els’s career when he won it for the first time in 1992.

“That really set me on my way. I won and it got me into some tournaments on the European Tour, one of them being the British Open where I finished fifth. That in turn got me into the US Open the next year, and my performance there got me into the US Open in 1994, which I won. So without my 1992 SA Open win I wouldn’t have made it into those tournaments and maybe not have had the career I have had.”

Goosen’s first SA Open triumph at Randpark Golf Club in 1995 also stands out in his mind as the most memorable of his two titles.

“Both my titles were great because on both occasions I beat Ernie coming down the stretch. He was always the best player in the field at the time. But 1995 was my first really big win so it will always stand out for me.”

And Oosthuizen would love nothing better than to add the SA Open to his British Open title.

“I’m really excited that the last tournament of my year is in South Africa. And with this being the second oldest national Open in golf, it would be nice winning both after my British Open win. It will be very special. I want to give it my best and make a great season even better.”

Although Els and Goosen admitted that the Durban Country Club course could have done with more time to see the new greens settle, none wanted to be too critical of its condition.

“Under the circumstances, I think they’ve done the best they can. It is a little sad because this golf course is our St Andrews, so you’d like to see the course at its best. But I don’t want to criticise it.”

Goosen was a little more direct in his assessment. “The course is a bit of a disappointment and not in the shape that we’re used to seeing here. But it’s the same for everybody. It just means ball striking will be key this week, because the greens will be difficult to putt on.”

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