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Ernie Els sets sights on third Scottish Open title

After making a last-minute decision to play in this week's Scottish Open, Ernie Els has his sights set on a record third title at Loch Lomond.

The twice U.S. Open champion, the only player to have won the event twice, had considered pulling out of one of his favourite events to practise links golf for next week's British Open.

"I love this tournament and really enjoy the Loch Lomond golf course," the 35-year-old told reporters on Wednesday.

"Having won it twice before, I'm really looking forward to playing and hoping for a good performance this week.

"I had thought of skipping it this year, after a tough stretch of tournaments the past month or so, and instead taking an extra week off to play some links golf in preparation for the Open.

"But I'm back and would dearly love to win this title again," added the South African, winner at Loch Lomond in 2000 and 2003. "Hopefully, I can then take some form into St Andrews."

Els, who tied for 15th in last month's U.S. Open at Pinehurst, leads the strongest European Tour field of the year with eight of the world's top 20 in action this week.

World number four Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen (five), Australia's Adam Scott (seven), Britain's Luke Donald (13), Argentina's Angel Cabrera (15), Darren Clarke (17) and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez (20) are also in the field.

Left-hander Mickelson, winner of last year's U.S. Masters, is competing at Loch Lomond for the third year in a row.

"This is a wonderful event and one I'd like to play well in for a couple of reasons," he told a news conference. "Firstly it's a great event and second I'd like to get some momentum for next week.

"I think I have only one top-10 finish in this tournament and yet I know the golf course well enough," added the American, who missed the Loch Lomond cut last year by a shot.

"I've come in this year a couple of days earlier than last year to try to get adjusted to the time difference and to adapt to the course."

Scott, who tied for third in the 2001 Scottish Open after opening with a 65, is delighted to be back at the spectacular layout after a two-year absence.

"I love this place," said the 24-year-old from Adelaide. "It is one of my favourite venues and was one of the first tournaments I ever played as a professional.

"It is a great field and a great course and this is what I base my schedule around, trying to play against the best field around and to go to good golf courses for a real test."

Frenchman Thomas Levet, who came from seven strokes behind with a closing 63 to win last year's Scottish Open by a shot, is back to defend.

"Although I played really well that week, my putting was off but suddenly it came out on the back nine on the last day," he recalled.

"I have very nice memories of that finish, and it is lovely to be back. It's the same, familiar course."

The French Ryder Cup player was not concerned to be playing the American-style layout at Loch Lomond one week before the links course challenge of a British Open.

"It would be great to play more links courses, that's for sure," he said. "But when you look at the quality of the field that is here, it tells you that you have a great golf course. Everybody comes no matter what the tournament after that is."

Among those teeing off in Thursday's opening round are former champions Thomas Bjorn of Denmark (1996), American Tom Lehman (1997), Britons Lee Westwood (1998) and Colin Montgomerie (1999) and Argentina's Eduardo Romero (2002).

Also playing are twice U.S. Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal and European Ryder Cup players Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Ian Poulter and David Howell.


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