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PGA Tour makes it difficult for global Els

Ernie Els is the most global player in golf, a modern-day version of Gary Player. He was born in South Africa, makes his home in London and plays the majority of his tournaments in the United States.

He already has made at least a dozen transoceanic flights this year while competing in five of the six continents where golf is played.

But the Big Easy feels like the PGA Tour is making him wear a ball and chain.

``I am a world player, and they have to accept that,'' Els said last month when his frustrations began to surface.

Even though Els was a European Tour regular before coming to America in 1994, the PGA Tour requires what amounts to a permission slip for Els to play overseas.

PGA Tour members ordinarily are eligible for three releases to play overseas if they play a 15-event schedule. For every additional release, they are required to play five extra Tour events.

``That's impossible for me,'' said Els, who already has played in Thailand, Australia, Dubai, Germany and England this year, and returns to golf this week in Switzerland. ``It's the same old stuff. You give me this, I'll give you that. I've been playing that game for 10 years now, so I guess we'll keep playing it.''

Els could get unlimited releases by declaring the European Tour -- and not the South African tour -- as his home tour, but then he would have to play 20 times a year on the PGA Tour, and that's too much golf for him to stay fresh.

Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour, says the Tour tries to be flexible with the release, especially when a player wins a major and has financial opportunities (appearance money) overseas.

In fact, Els got nine releases last year for the 18 Tour events he played. This year, he is expected to get 10 releases in exchange for 17 Tour events.

``We don't put pressure on players,'' Hughes said. ``It's just a matter of agreeing what we want them to play in exchange for what they want. Ernie being an international player, he needs a few more releases.''

Still, it seems odd that an international player has to make so many concessions just to be on the PGA Tour.

Els isn't happy with the situation, although he understands his role as someone who brings star power to an event. But while Els has hinted the last few years about playing more often on the PGA Tour, that probably won't happen now.

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