Els hopes home advantage gets him off to a flyer

After a year to forget in 2011, Ernie Els is hoping home-soil advantage can help get him off to a flyer in 2012.

Ernie Els in action at the 2005 South African Open

Els dropped out of the world’s top 50 for the first time since 1993 after a miserable 2011 which saw him go the entire calendar year without registering a victory. That means he’s not qualified, as yet, for this year’s Masters at Augusta.

However, the 42-year-old did still meet the qualification criteria for this week’s Volvo Golf Champions at The Links at Fancourt as the South African Open title he won in December 2010 was part of the 2011 European Tour schedule.

Els, in fact, would have got in anyway as this week’s limited field, no halfway cut tournament is also open to current Tour members under 50 with more than 10 European Tour victories. Three-time major winner Els has 26.

Nevertheless, ‘The Big Easy’ knows his past exploits count for nothing as he looks to get back on the winning trail and he’s confident that starting his campaign so close to home will be a big benefit.

“Often in the past that would involve a long journey, especially when I started the season with tournaments in Hawaii,” he told his website, ernieels.com.

“This year it’s a different story. My first tournament is the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt. That is literally just down the road, so I don’t even have to pack my bags for that one.

A real treat

“I can sleep in my own bed and still enjoy some good old home cooking. There are maybe only two or three tournaments a year where I can do that, so it’s a real treat.”

Els, the current world number 71, is a huge fan of this week’s venue.

“Fancourt is a treat any time you play it and I’ve had some memorable experiences there over the years, notably in South African Opens and in the Presidents Cup (2003).

“I also filmed my first ever instruction book and video there and that’s going back even further in time…all the way to 1994, in fact! It’s a special place and the Links is a great golf course. I can’t think of a better location to tee off my new season.

“Trust me I always look forward to getting back into the swing of tournament golf. The first tournament of the new calendar year always feels like a new beginning. I love it. And even after 20-plus years as a tournament professional I still get excited about the prospect of a year’s competitive golf ahead of me.

“Obviously I love playing in South Africa and have won five of my European Tour titles there. I’m looking forward to trying to win The European Tour’s first true ‘tournament of champions’.”

Els has stiff competition as he bids to capture the 350,000 Euro winner’s cheque.

While Paul Casey, the winner of the inaugural event held last year at the Royal Golf Club course in Bahrain, is absent due to a snowboarding injury, 2011 major champions Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke line up as does 2010 Open winner and recent Africa Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

Present and former Ryder Cup captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie qualify as winners of more than 10 European Tour events aged under 50 while youngsters Tom Lewis and Matteo Manassero are also in the field having won on the 2011 European Tour schedule.

Others taking part in the ‘tournament of champions’ include Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington,Robert Karlsson, Simon Dyson, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Lawrie.