The worlds ninth-ranked nine and four-time winner of the second oldest national Open, leads a host of big names at Pearl Valley Estates.
Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke are all competing in the event in Paarl, alongside defending champion James Kingston, Rory Sabbatini and Justin Rose.
Only nine non-South African players have ever won the title and Els, a three-time major winner, is hoping that total will not change come Sunday.
We South Africans love our sport and we dont want any foreigner to win our national tournament, so to speak, Els said.
I think our guys will really pick up their games, especially with the world-class players here. It definitely sharpens your focus a little bit. The tournament is very healthy seeing all the players coming back to play. Weve got a world-class field here. For this time of year to be in South Africa, it means weve got something special, so Im rather pleased with whats been going on.
Els, who will be one of the early starters on Thursday playing alongside compatriot Sabbatini and Swede Stenson, praised the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, adding that he was looking forward to the week.
The golf course is in unbelievable shape, really in remarkable condition, Els said. Id like to play well here and get myself really teed up for next year.
This is a tournament that I really wanted to come and play. I regard the South African Open very highly. It really launched my career in a way. Back in 1992, winning here gave me a lot of spots into international tournaments and really set me up. So I owe this tournament a lot of gratitude.
Stenson, the world No. 8, comes into the tournament after an outstanding 2008 that saw him finish tied third at the British Open and fourth in the PGA Championship.
He also claimed recent wins at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup and the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
I think it (2008) went from very good to great, Stenson said. Ive had two wins in 2007, two wins in 2006, so its very nice to get these two tournaments.
Its a very good course with lots of options off the tee, and a lot of wind. Its going to be a tough week I think if it keeps blowing like this.