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Ernie Els looking for fourth Heineken title

Ernie Els is eyeing a slice of golfing history when he tees off in the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne on Thursday.

The South African known as the "Big Easy" is chasing his fourth successive victory in Australia's richest golf tournament and is brimming with confidence after returning to form.

Only four men -- Tom Morris junior, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Tiger Woods -- have won an event sanctioned by either the European Tour or PGA Tour at least four times in a row as a professional.

Three-times major winner Els hopes to join that elite club after ironing out some minor problems in his game.

"I feel that mentally I have come a long way in my game," Els told reporters in Melbourne.

"And there are a number of technical aspects where I can be better and I have started working on those things."

Els, ranked three in the world, is a hot favourite to win the tournament ahead of Australian Open champion Peter Lonard and Adam Scott, Australia's highest ranked player.

Els fired a course-record 60 on the opening day last year but still had to hang on grimly to win the tournament after shooting 74 on the final day.

Els said his concentration had been broken by his disappointment at not getting to the magical 59 but that was the last thing on his mind this year.

"You don't have to worry about someone breaking 60 around Royal Melbourne," Els said. "I don't think it's going to happen.

"It's just that you have freaky days where the weather is right, the greens are receptive, like they were last year, and the pin positions on the first day are not as tough as they are on Sunday."

Despite having won on the European and the U.S. PGA Tours, Scott is still chasing his first victory on home soil after several near-misses.

He lost by a stroke in last year's Heineken Classic and is confident of breaking his duck this time around.

"I'm very happy with where my whole game is in general, especially my swing," Scott said.

"I enjoy being here and playing well here last year was very satisfying for me because it's probably our best course."

Organisers are hoping the tournament will proceed as planned on Thursday despite two days of heavy rain that forced the cancellation of the pro-am.

Organisers have also agreed to let Greg Norman carry a microphone during the tournament after the former world number one said players should be wired for sound.

Norman volunteered to carry a microphone so he could talk to the TV broadcasters during his round after complaining that golf needed to come up with innovative ways to attract new fans.

Norman is in the same group as Stuart Appleby and Colin Montgomerie for the first round and also needed their permission.

Montgomerie has had a lean time in recent seasons after dominating the European Tour but the 41-year-old Scot says he is back in the groove after finishing runner-up at last week's Singapore Masters.

"I had a great opportunity of winning in Singapore so I'm getting back to some sort of decent form," he said. "The desire and the drive I have is more than it ever has been."


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