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Ernie Els looking for third straight Sony title

Ernie Els has always felt at home in Hawaii and is in confident mood as he bids for a third consecutive title in this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

The world number three has fired 16 consecutive sub-70 rounds at the tournament's permanent venue, never finishing worse than fifth in the opening full-field event of the PGA Tour season.

"It's a beautiful spot and three wins in a row here would be pretty special," the 35-year-old South African said on his official website.

"The good thing is, from the way I played at last week's Mercedes (Championships in Hawaii), I feel confident about my game in general.

"For the first week of a new season, my game felt like it was in good shape.

"I led the birdie stats, making 26 in all, which is a very positive sign," added Els, who tied for third last week with Tiger Woods in the U.S. Tour's season-opener at Kapalua. "I also led the greens hit in regulation.

"But keen golf fans will know that Waialae is a completely different type of challenge to Kapalua. There isn't the same degree of elevation change and the fairways are much tighter.

"There are a few more doglegs, as well, so you can't just reach for your driver and bomb it. The greens are smaller, too," added the three-times major winner, who won last year's title in a playoff with American Harrison Frazar.

Woods has opted to miss the event before returning to competition in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines Golf Course later this month.

However, world number one Vijay Singh, U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman are among the big names who will tee off in Thursday's opening round.

Also taking part is 15-year-old prodigy Michelle Wie, who narrowly failed to make the cut in last year's event after firing a second-round 68.

The 1.83-metre Hawaiian schoolgirl, already hailed as the Tiger Woods of the women's game, is back again on a sponsor's invitation.

Last year, Wie finished ahead of 48 PGA Tour regulars, of whom British Open champion Todd Hamilton, Australian Adam Scott and American left-hander Steve Flesch are also in this week's field.

Wie will certainly feel a little apprehensive at Waialae Country Club as she attempts to become the first female to make the cut in a men's PGA Tour event, but so too will Britain's Paul Casey.

Ryder Cup player Casey, 27, will be playing his first event in the United States since his much-publicised attack on American sports culture last November.

"I'm looking forward to playing but also a little bit worried about it," said the Englishman, who was quoted in a British newspaper as saying he had felt "hate" towards the Americans during last year's Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.

Casey has an American girlfriend and a home in Scottsdale, Arizona.


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