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Ernie Els heads top field for Scottish Open

Ernie Els can steal a march on Tiger Woods in the world rankings if he retains his Scottish Open title this week, but he is in two minds about winning on the eve of a major championship.

The British Open takes place next week at Royal Troon in Scotland and world number two Els, like most professionals, believes the odds are always against back-to-back titles, especially a normal tour event followed by a major.

However, the big South African would not mind bucking that trend.

"Let's face it, when you win a tournament it's hard to go in the next week and do the same," Els said on Wednesday, the day before one of the European Tour's strongest fields assembles for the opening round at the spectacular venue north of Glasgow.

"In saying that, I've won this tournament twice before and I would love to win again, and hopefully change that little rut in a major.

"I hope I have a good week here and a chance to win on Sunday. I just want to find some form going into Troon."

The three-times major winner's bid for a third Loch Lomond title could be thwarted by the player who got the better of him at this year's U.S. Masters, American world number four Phil Mickelson.

The left-handed Mickelson ended a 14-year wait for a major victory after edging out Els by a shot at Augusta National in April. He was absent, though, from Loch Lomond on Wednesday after deciding to spend the day sizing up Royal Troon.

There are four other significant U.S. entries in this week's Scottish Open field.

Loch Lomond course designer Tom Weiskopf, the 1973 British Open champion at Troon, is in the draw, as is Mark Calcavecchia, winner of the 1989 Troon Open.

Also playing are Tom Lehman, winner of the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham and the 1997 Scottish Open, and Ben Curtis, shock winner of last year's British Open at Royal St George's.

However fellow American Justin Leonard, the last British Open champion at Troon in 1997, is not playing this week, nor Woods, who prefers to prepare for the third of the year's four majors by playing links golf in Ireland the previous week.

More Americans would play at the Scottish Open, Els believes, if the venue was switched to Loch Lomond's sister course Dundonald, a links layout also owned by Lyle Anderson.

"Leading up to the Open, I think a lot of players would like to see a links-type set-up and I hear Dundonald is a great set-up," Els said.

"I would like to see it (the venue) alternate year by year, and maybe you would see a better field.

"More Americans might come and support this event if there is a links feel before the Open."

Britain's Lee Westwood, who tied for second behind U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen at last week's European Open, and 1999 Loch Lomond winner Colin Montgomerie have been grouped with Els for the first two rounds.

Mickelson will play in the company of 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie and Darren Clarke, who had to settle for a share of second behind winner Leonard at the 1997 British Open.

Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, joint runner-up with Clarke at Troon in 1997, misses this week's event and the British Open to follow because of a shoulder injury.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who withdrew from last week's event in Ireland after only a few holes saying his game was in disarray, is among the starters at Loch Lomond, though.

Back-to-back winner Goosen, however, has taken the week off.

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