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Ernie Els sets sights on World No.1 spot

Ernie Els, who contended in all four majors last year without winning any of them, has set his sights on becoming the game's leading player this season.

"I have the motivation and I have the game to reach the top this year," South Africa's world number three told Reuters on Sunday as he began his preparations for this week's Dubai Desert Classic.

"My start to the year has been pretty solid, although not as spectacular as that of Phil Mickelson. But it has proved to me I am still on top of my game."

Els produced top-six finishes in his first five starts this year while U.S. Masters champion Mickelson, in blistering form on the PGA Tour, has won consecutive titles in his last two strokeplay events.

Three-times major winner Els, who enjoyed three spells as world number one in 1997 and 1998, believes the battle for golfing supremacy could hardly be tighter this year.

"The gap between the top five golfers is closing fast and the race for the number one golfer has become even more intense," he said. "And I am in that company.

"Tiger Woods still starts every tournament as a favourite, but he is no longer a clear winner as used to be the case. The game has become a lot more exciting, which wasn't the case when Tiger was at his peak."

Woods captured eight majors and held the number one ranking for more than five years before losing the top spot to Fiji's Vijay Singh last September.

However, Singh (still at one), second-ranked Woods and Els are separated by just 1.23 points in the official rankings while Mickelson (at four) and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (at five) are close behind.

Els doubts whether Woods will dominate golf as he did from 1999 to 2002, despite a recent return to winning form by the American.

"I can't see him being that dominant again," said the South African, after completing final design plans for his latest golf course venture - The Dunes - at the Dubai Sports City.

"The guys out there are a lot more confident, they've stepped up to their games. No one is hitting it 30 or 40 yards past everybody else.

"But Tiger is as hungry (for success) as ever. Every great player in the world has ups and downs and Tiger, like many others, did go through a change (of swing).

"I have been through that and it takes time for a new swing to settle in."

Els will be bidding this week for a third title at the Emirates Golf Club, having won the Dubai Desert Classic in 1994 and 2002.

"It's good that I have come here early (on Sunday as that will give me enough time prepare for the tournament," he said.

"Although my favourite course is Royal Melbourne, I do have a special liking for the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club because it's very well manicured and elegantly laid out.

"Whenever I play here, I feel I can do well."

The Dubai Desert Classic starts on Thursday. American Mark O'Meara won last year's title by a shot from Irish Ryder Cup player Paul McGinley.


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