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Els looking forward instead of looking back

After being a frustrated 'nearly man' at this year's majors, Ernie Els plans to make the most of a near-perfect finish to the 2004 season.

The popular South African won his first World Golf Championship title at the WGC-American Express Championship in Ireland on Sunday, replacing Tiger Woods as the game's second-ranked player in the process.

He also took over from Woods at number three in the U.S. PGA Tour money list while strengthening his grip at the top of the European Tour's order of merit, where his earnings are a record 3,368,121 euros ($4.13 million) for a single season.

Most significantly, though, Els regained confidence after failing to win a major this year despite contending in all four.

Following his fourth victory of 2004, the three-times major winner has dedicated himself to refining his career goals and is looking forward to one of his favourite segments in the annual golfing calendar.

"I always enjoy this time of year, because it's got some of my favourite tournaments," he said on his official website. "This week's Dunhill Links Championship is one of them.

"It's played on three great links courses: the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. And I get to team up with my dad, which is something we both really look forward to.

"Last year, my dad and I came close to winning the team event, plus I only just missed out on winning the main event. Hopefully we can go one better this year."

Els tees off in the opening round of the $5 million Dunhill Links Championship on Thursday, when he will be vying with world number one Vijay Singh for one of the biggest prizes in European golf.

Adding further spice to their duel is the fact that the smooth-swinging South African has targeted Fijian Singh's status as the game's leading player.

"I've been chasing Tiger for the last five or six years and now it seems like I've got to chase Vijay," he said.

"He'll be tough to catch if he carries on playing like he is. But I'm up for the challenge. `Game on', as they say.

"Vijay has won eight times, I've won four times.

"I'm really in a much better frame of mind right now," added Els, who ran Phil Mickelson close at the U.S. Masters in April before finishing second and was edged out by American Todd Hamilton in a playoff for the British Open in July.

Singh, who has won five times in his last six PGA Tour starts, ended Woods's five-year reign as world number one a month ago.

After this week's Dunhill Links Championship, Els is scheduled to play in the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth before returning to the U.S. for the Chrysler Championship and the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.

He will then travel to his native South Africa for the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in early December.

Although relatively happy with spread of his international tournaments, the globe-trotting professional plans to trim his European commitment.

"I'm not going to turn my back on the European Tour," he said. "I'm actually trying to put some more tournaments in my schedule in South Africa because I feel like I need to support the people down there.

"They're going to move their tour forward into November, December, so I'll try and do that too.

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