Els won in Dubai and Qatar after taking three weeks off and sneaking down home to South Africa. Dubai had only a marginal field, admittedly, and Qatar was a bit weaker, but Ernie did exactly what he had to do in both instances. Now he comes back to the PGA Tour to play at Bay Hill, and Woods, Singh and Retief Goosen will be waiting for him. In fact, Woods and Goosen are in his threesome the first two days.
Coming west, it's always better than going back east, he said. So I'll be fine. It was better than flying economy class. You must have heard about that.
Els laughed at that one. He was obliged to fly in the back ' seat 32F, middle of the row ' when he showed up late to the airport for the flight from South Africa to Qatar. His wife had taken their jet to their home in London earlier.
You know, you just hate it when that happens! Your wife takes the family toy and leaves, and suddenly you find yourself stranded. But to Els, this particular flight just proved what a regular guy he is. No complaining or griping, old boy ' just do it.
But he was acutely aware of what was going on in America for the few weeks since he had finished runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Singh had lost his No. 1 world ranking to Woods, and Mickelson had won a couple of tournaments to match Tiger.
The fields over there are not as strong as over here, obviously, said Ernie. But that puts a new dimension on it. It puts another dimension of pressure because they love to talk about - I'm three in the world and the next guy is No. 16 in the world; you've-got-to-win-this-week kind of a thing.
So it's easy to get caught up in all of that. For me personally, yes, I wanted to play well and try and win one of the two (in Dubai and Qatar). Both of them was a definite bonus, but it was really important to get back into the winner's circle. Especially after the first four weeks I played of the year, I felt I had chances in all four weeks to win and I didn't finish it off.
Ernie was a bit surprised to hear that, should he or Singh win at Bay Hill, they could overtake Woods for the No. 1 ranking.
I love to be No. 1, he said, an admission that Singh and Woods have studiously avoided making.
'I'm as close as I've been for a year now, I've been kind of hovering around there for the last year or so, and my game is really good. I'm driving it well. I'm going to work on my iron play My putting feels pretty good. And this golf course really should set up well for my game.
So, yeah, obviously, I want to play as well as I can this week, and who knows, if it's my week, I might be able to win and that's definitely the goal.
While he was relaxing prior to his back-to-back tournaments in the Middle East, Els was vitally interested in news pouring in from America. Mickelson was winning twice ' duly noted. Tiger was playing some exceptional golf. And ' Ernie wasnt playing. But ' he kept a close eye on his TV.
Yeah, I did, he said. I had three weeks off there in South Africa, and obviously I was kept up on what was going on here. We do have satellite television down there, he chuckled.
Anyway, no, I watched a bit of that. Yeah, the guys are really tearing it up, you know, so to speak. Those top players that we talk about week-in and week-out, they are definitely doing the business now and it should be one of the more exciting years in golf. They are definitely playing great golf.
Els has homes in South Africa, London and Orlando. He was born in South Africa. And when he takes time off, youll most likely find him in South Africa. But when he goes down there for an extended time, he admits hes away from where almost all the action is. And he admits he misses out sometimes.
Three weeks is a long time, he said. In our sport, you take three weeks off, that's quite a big break.
Yeah, after the first week, you just enjoy your time off. But after the second or third week and you see the guys up there, you start burning to get out there and playing.
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