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World's best ready for HSBC Match Play

Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, the world's top two players, could not be more confident going into the World Match Play Championship starting at Wentworth on Thursday.

Singh has enjoyed a magnificent year, winning eight tournaments to end Tiger Woods's five-year reign as world number one.

Els has put behind him the disappointment of failing to add to his three career major titles despite being in contention on the final day at each of the four 2004 majors.

"I am as happy as I have ever been," the 34-year-old South African told reporters on Wednesday. "In golfing terms I could see myself achieving more but away from the course things are wonderful."

Els, whose English home backs on to the Wentworth course, won the WGC-American Express Championship at Mount Juliet, Ireland this month to ease his major frustrations.

"I definitely felt disappointed after the U.S. PGA (in August)," Els said. "It took a while to get over it but I tried to re-evaluate my year and decided I had to look to the future and be positive.

"Mount Juliet was a big win for me as I was very committed to playing well that week. It was a fresh start to the end of my year."

Els, seeking a record sixth Match Play title, begins his defence against Briton Scott Drummond, who sprung to prominence when, ranked 435th in the world, he won the prestigious Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.

"Scott shot 64 here to win here last time so that shows what sort of player he is," Els said. "I need to go out there and perform and I'm not even thinking about winning my sixth title."

Singh starts his quest for a second Match Play crown against experienced German Bernhard Langer, who is also riding the crest of a wave after captaining Europe to a crushing victory over the United States in last month's Ryder Cup.

"Bernhard knows the golf course as well as his own back yard and he is a tough competitor," said the 41-year-old Fijian. "But I am playing well and the course favours long hitters."

Singh is relishing being the world's top-ranked player.

"There is definitely more pressure on your score as the number one but I am enjoying it," Singh said. "I have handled the tension okay since I became number one."

Both Els and Singh said they would be happy if the seedings work out and they meet over 36 holes in Sunday's final.

"I think it could be a great match and I hope it happens," Singh said.

Els was full of praise for the Fijian, though he admitted part of him would prefer to play a different opponent in the final.

"Vijay has had an unbelievable year," Els said. "He's won a major and seven other tournaments and he has dominated world golf.

"It would be great to play Vijay in the final but I would really like to see him taken out before then," Els added.

In other first-round matches, Frenchman Thomas Levet plays Canadian Mike Weir, South African Retief Goosen, the U.S.Open champion, meets American Jeff Maggert, Briton Lee Westwood takes on British Open champion Todd Hamilton of the United States and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez faces American Steve Flesch.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington tackles American Chris Riley and Angel Cabrera of Argentina plays South Korean K.J.Choi.

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