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Beem & Els lead field in Germany

Last year the Linde German Masters was hit hard by Sept. 11 as several big name Americans pulled out of the European event in the aftermath of the attacks.

This year, the event has boosted its purse to three million euros ($2.98 million) and pulled in PGA champion Rich Beem, British Open winner Ernie Els and 2001 U.S. Open titleist Retief Goosen to highlight a strong field.

``All the Ryder Cup guys are here. They have Rich Beem here. It is a great field -- I'm really looking forward to this week,'' said Els.

Beem is playing on continental Europe for the first time since he was in high school when his father was a golf pro at the U.S. military course in Berlin.

``Since I lived in Berlin, I just jumped at the chance to come over here,'' said Beem, who admitted his game was rusty after a two-week layoff.

Beem didn't believe he would mix it up at the top of the leaderboard or make a run for the title on Sunday.

``But then obviously I've said that before and things have gone my way,'' said Beem, who held off Tiger Woods at the PGA.

In the field are 10 of the 12 European Ryder Cup players, many still struggling to find their game just two weeks before the first swings are taken in the showdown against the Americans on Sept. 27 at The Belfry, England.

Colin Montgomerie is playing for the first time since pulling out of the NEC Invitational three weeks ago with his chronically sore back.

``I am just pleased and anxious to get back into competition with the Ryder Cup just a two weeks away,'' the Scotsman said. ``I want to prove to (team captain) Sam Torrance and the team that everything is OK.''

The one big-name American who showed up last year at the Linde, John Daly, withdrew Wednesday because of a shoulder injury suffered at the Bell Canadian. That may not have much impact on a field including Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, Players Champion Craig Perks and Bernhard Langer.

The field can boast 24 titles in majors, with Langer contributing his two Masters crowns. The German is the defending champion of an event he runs with his brother Erwin.

``The strong competition won't make it easy, but I'll do my best to win my tournament a fifth time,'' said Langer, hard to beat in his homeland, where he has reaped 11 titles.

The prize money ranks the Linde among the biggest tournaments in Europe, while the tournament has been admitted this year to a select group of five events. The winner receives a five-year tour exemption, instead of the regular two for most events.

Langer admits his standing in golf may help in putting together such a strong field.

``Several things come together. There's the importance of the prize money, the course, and what tournaments come after and before it,'' Langer said. ``Maybe the personal contacts help.''

The German figures the $5.5 million (5.7 million euros) American Express Championships the following week lure the top players to stay a second week in Europe.

Els is in a battle with Goosen, a fellow South African, to become Europe's leading money-winner for the season. But he is also fighting a slump since winning the British Open in July, including last month's 34th place finish at the PGA.

``For some reason I haven't played any good golf since then, but I am close now. My mental attitude is good,'' he said.

The Europeans hope some of their struggling Ryder Cup players will regain form with the event looming. Phillip Price has missed five cuts and Lee Westwood has plummeted from fifth in the world two years ago to No. 133.

``Certainly some of us aren't performing that well, but the Americans have the same problem,'' Langer said.


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