The South African is looking for a record fourth title at Sun City, and has changed his set of irons after disappointing results at the Singapore Open and the HSBC Champions tournament in China.
'I've just not been hitting the ball close enough to the flags,' said Els, who recently picked up his new clubs in London. 'My previous set were cavity-backed and I felt I needed something that would perhaps give me more control over the ball.'
Els won in 1999, 2000 and '02, and is trying to surpass fellow three-time winners Nick Price and David Frost.
'I'm up for trying to become the first player to win it four times,' Els said.
He's not the only 'hometown' player competing for $1.2 million winner's share. The 12-man field also includes former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, 11th-ranked Rory Sabbatini, Trevor Immelman and the 2007 South African Order of Merit winner Charl Schwartzel.
Sabbatini is one of four players making his first appearance in the field, along with Justin Rose, Geoff Ogilvy and Niclas Fasth.
Sabbatini said he looked forward to the challenge of facing Els, who has a big fan following on the tough course at the Gary Player Country Club.
'The whole world is Ernie's backyard,' Sabbatini said. 'But in a 12-man field, anyone who plays good golf for four days will be tough to beat.'
Missing from the field is defending champion Jim Furyk, who withdrew with neck problems. That leaves Stewart Cink as the only American in the field.
The 34-year-old Cink had a solid season in 2007, compiling six top-10 finishes on the PGA TOUR, including a tie for third at the PLAYERS Championship and a tie for sixth at the British Open.
Sixth-ranked Adam Scott is leading a group of young players -- including Rose, Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald -- who have replaced some of the perennial performers at Sun City, like Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie.