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South Africans prepare for US Open

Southern Africa's number one and two are back in action on the US PGA Tour this week, competing in the Buick Classic in preparation for the second Major of 2002 in two weeks.

The reigning US Open champion Retief Goosen and Ernie Els have traveled to the State of New York and will feature in the line-up at the Westchester Country Club course that has hosted the tournament since 1967.

Els, who finished runner-up to Lee Janzen in 1994, returned to record back-to-back victories in 1996 and 1997 - in fact, the 33-year old from Johannesburg has never finished outside the top 25 at the Buick Classic.

His recent performances confirm that the Big Easy is back on form this year. In the early months, Els was victorious in both the Heineken Classic and the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour schedule and, in his first outing in the US, Els claimed his ninth win on the US PGA Tour, the Genuity Championship.

Although he hasn't recorded a victory since Dubai, Els has added seven top 25 finishes to his tally in the US, four of which were in the top ten with his best performance a joint fourth in the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic three weeks ago.

While Els hopes to add a third Buick Classic title to his name, Retief Goosen will have his sight set on getting warmed up this week for his title defence over at The Black Course of the Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale next week.

Retief Goosen emerged as the winner of the Volvo Order of Merit last year after he triumphed at the US Open and followed that with three more European Tour wins, makes his first appearance at Westchester in his Buick Classic debut.

Goosen, who continued where he left off last year, claimed his eighth victory on the European Tour when he cruised to an eight stroke win in the Johnnie Walker Classic at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Perth, Western Australia in February.

A week later, the Pietersburg native flew back to South Africa where he clinched his first title on home soil since his 1995 SA Open win - the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am at Sun City.

The current Volvo Order of Merit leader has enjoyed a good run of form on the US PGA Tour this season. Starting with a joint 30th finish in the Honda Classic in March, Goosen improved in each event to an eventual victory in the BellSouth Classic in April.

In the season's first Major, the South African recorded a tournament-high 21 birdies in The Masters to finish second to Tiger Woods, two strokes behind the World Number One.

Both South Africans are eager to do well this week leading into next week's US Open - three US Open titles and five recent tournament victories are certain to pay off dividends.


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