The South African won last year's event by a single shot over Tom Lehman and two ahead of '99 winner Colin Montgomerie.
Even without Els, the European Tour event has attracted a world-class field partly because it serves as a warm-up for next week's British Open.
Among those still in the field is Sergio Garcia, playing his first event since winning the Buick Classic. Garcia comes in having won two of his last four U.S. starts and needing to earn some European money to improve his Ryder Cup points position. He currently stands 18th on the European Ryder cup points list.