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Ernie Els to return at Sun City this week

The Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa is one of the best boondoggles in the silly season, a 12-man exhibition in Sun City with $1.2 million for the winner. Expect one player to feel the pressure on the first tee Thursday.

Ernie Els is back.

Four months after surgery to repair ligaments in his left knee, the Big Easy returns to golf and already is off to a good start. On the first hole of his first practice round, he hit 9-iron into 20 feet and made the birdie putt.

"I'm very excited and, to be honest with you, I feel really fortunate to have my health back and to be in a position to play again," Els said Monday on his Web site. "My game feels like it's in pretty nice shape."

Els had surgery July 28 and missed the PGA Championship, the Presidents Cup, failed to win on the PGA Tour for the first time in four years and saw his world ranking slip to No. 5.

He won't return to the PGA Tour until the Nissan Open at Riviera in February.

"I actually feel pretty nervous about playing again," Els said. "I've spoken to a few guys who had a similar experience to me, with not being able to play because of injury. They all said the same thing. When you come back, there's that extra element of the unknown, which we're not used to. But nerves aren't a bad thing."

Els last played competitively in the British Open, where he tied for 34th.

During his time away, he has worked on his posture and alignment, and even tinkered with his putting stroke. Els has gone to a slightly longer putter (36 inches) to help him stand taller over the ball and release the club more freely.

"It's hard to say how all of these changes will translate into tournament play," he said. "But we'll soon find out."

November 30, 2005

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