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Ernie Els looking for an immediate improvement

Ernie Els is determined to forget all about last week as he prepares to launch his title defence in the Hawaii Open at Waialae Country Club on Thursday.

Twelve months ago, the smooth-swinging South African was the hottest player in the game, winning the first two PGA Tour events of the season and extending that streak to four wins in his first five outings of 2003.

But he failed to impress as defending champion in last week's season-opening Mercedes Championships, struggling with his putter on his way to rounds of 73, 70, 73 and 72 and a share of 21st place.

"I'm not overly concerned, though, about last week's disappointing showing at the Mercedes," the world number three said on his official website.

"One of the keys to me getting myself into the right frame of mind for a tournament is to forget about what happened the previous week -- whether I've won or not.

"I'm aware of where the weaknesses were and I'll be making sure I try to put those right.

"My putting was the main thing, which came as a bit of a surprise because I putted consistently well during the 2003 season."

Last year, Els was one of the game's standout figures, collecting seven victories worldwide.

The three-times major winner dominated the European Tour, winning four times, and he ended the PGA Tour season ninth in the money list, boosted by his win-win start in Hawaii during January.

He carded a record-breaking 31-under-par 261 to win the Mercedes Championship by eight strokes on January 12, eclipsing the tour's previous record low by two shots.

A week later at the Hawaii Open, he completed back-to-wins, holing a 55-foot birdie putt on the second sudden-death playoff hole to defeat Australian Aaron Baddeley.

This year has not begun anywhere near as well but, despite the disappointment of Kapalua last week, Els is delighted to be back at Waialae Country Club for the PGA Tour's second event of 2004.

"For the second week running, I've got the pleasure of being defending champion," he said.

"Last year I had a really good battle down the stretch with Aaron Baddeley, who I was paired with in the final group.

"Hopefully this year I can hole a few putts early on in Thursday's first round. It's amazing what that does for your confidence."

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