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Els & Foster feature at Singapore Masters

The Caltex Singapore Masters will feature the winners of both of last week's sudden-death play-offs — Ernie Els, fresh from his back-to-back triumphs in Hawaii, and England's Mark Foster, winner of the 6-man Dunhill play-off in South Africa.

Ironically both man claimed their titles with mammoth putts of more than 40 metres, Els' clincher edging out Australia's US Tour rookie Aaron Baddeley, and Foster's giving him victory over Scots Paul Lawrie and Doug McGuigan, South Africans Trevor Immelman and Bradford Vaughan, and Dane Anders Hansen.

Els, who set an all-time US Tour record of 31-under in winning the US PGA's season opening Mercedes Championship at Kapalua, proved his mettle under pressure with that 43-foot stunner that won him his play-off with Baddeley at the second extra hole at Waialea, making him the first winner ever of both Hawaii tournaments, and clear the favouritefor this €844 279 event at Singapore's Laguna National Golf and Country Club.

He's shot scores of under 70 in all of his last 12 rounds, hoisted himself into the second spot on the world rankings, and banked more than €3.8m since his victory in the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City in mid-December. He has also been playing the kind of golf that suggests he'll be a real threat to world number one Tiger Woods, who gets back into circulation in the next month or two.

The big South Africa is neither arrogant nor overconfident at clearly being the world's top player right now.

"When you're winning golf tournaments, you like to think you're on top of the world," he said in Hawaii before boarding his new private jet on Sunday night with caddie Ricci Roberts and heading out to Singapore.

"But I feel like I could still improve."

"I could easily relax for another week or two here in Hawaii," he said, "but we've got to do what we've got to do.

"It will be a nice flight, just me and Ricci. We'll have a couple of beers, talk about it. Then we'll start again Thursday."

Els' heroics during the past month or so will give them plenty to talk about.

"This is what championship golf is all about, isn't it?" Els said. "This is why you practice, why you spend hours on the range, for this kind of situation."

"It's just a crazy game," he said referring to his 43-foot winner at the second extra hole of the Sony play-off.

"So many times it has happened to me. It kind of worked the other way around this time."

Maybe, he might reason, although he's not saying so, the 'Big Easy' is finally on the kind of roll he was always capable of, before he pulled in his horns when the Tiger hit the PGA Tour running.

For Foster, the third consecutive winner on this year's European Tour, the Singapore Masters certainly offers the former Amateur Champion a great opportunity to reinforce his new-found prowess as a professional — especially now that he has recovered from the mystery illness that almost caused him to withdraw from the Dunhill on the final day.

Foster also won't have Trevor Immelman, who won the SA Open and almost trumped him on the first hole of the Dunhill play-off, to contend with.

Immelman, who is now just some €2100 behind Padraig Harrington on the European Tour's Volvo Order of Merit and heads the Sunshine Tour's equivalent money list, has decided to stay on and finish the Sunshine Tour, clearly with the intention of hanging on to his top spot on the South African Tour, and claiming the automatic exemptions into the majors that go with it.

Harrington and other big guns like Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwoodand Nick Faldo won't be their either, but players who will be contesting the Singapore event, which is co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, include the 'Great Dane' Thomas Bjorn, and Swede Fredrik Jacobson, currently lying fourth in the Volvo Order of Merit.

Jacobson is seeking back-to-back victories in Asia following his victory in the co-sanctioned Omega Hong Kong Open in December, when he ended a run of six second place finishes, including twice missing out in play-offs, to claim his first European Tour title.

The defending champion is Arjun Atwal who made history 12 months ago when he became the first Indian player to win a European Tour event.

Atwal, only the second Indian golfer to graduate from the European Tour Qualifying School, won the title by five strokes with a 14-under 274.

Other 2002 European Tour winners playing are Anders Hansen, the reigning Volvo PGA champion and Stephen Leaney, the Linde German Masters title holder.




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