Ernie Els targets another Open, and consecutive victories at Muirfield

Victory for Ernie Els at last year's Open Championship supplied proof that the South African's professional aspirations have not been blunted by middle age.

Els has claimed four major titles and remains hungry for more. That appetite could prove especially pertinent next week with the Open returning to Muirfield; the venue for Els's last major victory, in 2002, before his dramatic success at Royal Lytham & St Annes last July, one stroke ahead of runner-up Adam Scott.

"I have been around a while, I turned pro just after leaving the air force back in 1989 when I was 20," Els says. "I am 43 now going on 44 so I am probably on the third stage of my career.

"But who cares? I really believe that I have a couple of majors left in me and I think I can keep going. I have got everything sorted, business and all that stuff so I can concentrate and play golf. I have nothing stopping me, it is sport, it is funny but I will give it as good a shot as I can.

"That is what makes golf so great; we are the only sport where you can compete as a fortysomething and at times beat twentysomethings. It is a wonderful sport that we play.

"If it wasn't for golf I would be selling hot dogs on the beach but I have golf and I can compete and win. I am looking forward to the future and after, maybe at 55, I can go and sell those hot dogs."

Els is generally priced at about 25-1 by bookmakers to complete the remarkable achievement of back-to-back Open wins and consecutive successes at Muirfield.

"It doesn't make any difference at all," Els says of such generous odds. "Muirfield is a wonderful venue where we have done well. I have just got to do my own work, get my game sharp and go from there. Whether you are the favourite or not doesn't mean a thing. I think we have proved that."

Els has therefore returned to Scotland with a Claret Jug as extra luggage which he is of a mind to retain for another year. "It is here, it is nice and clean and I am ready to give it back to Mr Dawson [Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive]," Els says. "But I am going to keep it here with me because I am not going to let it go that easily."

Els's confidence is endorsed by his victory at the BMW International Open in Munich last month. There, he held off the challenge of another fortysomething, Thomas Bjorn.

"That was a huge boost," Els explains. "I had opportunities in Germany to really pull away from the field, that I didn't quite take, but it was winning under quite a lot of pressure. Winning always takes quite a bit of doing but it really reconfirms my belief in the stuff that I have been doing with Sherylle [Calder, his visualisation coach] and so forth.

"That was part of the reason that I wanted to play in the Scottish Open, to have a run under pressure and take it into the Open. The Open means a lot to me, especially going to Muirfield, so I feel good about my chances."

Els has played four rounds at Muirfield within the last three weeks, thereby witnessing a notable change in conditions because of a spell of dry weather. Els now describes the East Lothian links as "fiery" and a "real, great test".

That was not, of course, the case 11 years ago. The third round of the 2002 championship was overshadowed by a spell of horrendous weather in which Tiger Woods slipped to an 81 and others similarly crumbled. Els, however, stood firm in holding the Open lead after 36, 54 and, crucially, 72 holes.

"Well 2002 was a funny one because I played good golf at the start of the year and then my game kind of left me, at the US Open where Bethpage was brutal," Els recalls.

"I worked on my game, David Leadbetter and myself worked our behinds off to get my swing back in shape, because Muirfield is a course where you can't hide. It is a true test, you have got to have your driving, your iron play, your short game and your putting, everything. You have got to have your wits with you.

"It was one of those great tests that I really love and luckily I had my game, I found my game so to speak, basically it was a last minute thing. On the Wednesday I found something on my swing, which was fortunate."

Next week, Els has a room booked at the famous Greywalls hotel, which housed Nick Faldo for his Muirfield Open wins in 1987 and 1992 as well as Els himself a decade later.

"With technology and knowledge of the game, experience is proven against a guy that doesn't quite believe that he is quite ready to win," says Els. "Other guys have done it, won a lot of tournaments. Tom Watson almost showed that when he was bloody 61 or something. So there are going to be some great stories written in sport still."

Els is firmly of a mind to pen one of them next weekend.

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray at Castle Stuart, for The Guardian on Friday 12th July 2013 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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