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Ernie Els seeking third Johnnie Walker win

Refreshed after a week's break at his England home, Ernie Els chases a third Johnnie Walker Classic title in China this week after his disappointing performance at the U.S. Masters.

The world number three was totally out of sorts at Augusta National this month, producing his worst Masters finish in his last 10 starts after scores of 75, 73, 78 and 72 left him in 47th place.

"Augusta was just one of those strange weeks where I couldn't find my game," the 35-year-old South African said on his official website.

"And trust me, Augusta National is the last golf course on earth where you want to be struggling with your game. It's just so tough.

"It was a shame, but that's golf. You just have to accept it, put it behind you and look forward to a better next tournament."

Augusta apart, Els has been in good form for most of this year with back-to-back victories on the European Tour and top-five finishes in his first three PGA Tour events.

He spent much of last week at his Wentworth home working on his game to restore rhythm and hopes his fruitful liaison with Johnnie Walker over the years can be repeated this week at the Pine Valley Golf Resort and Country Club in Beijing.

"Johnnie Walker has been something of a lucky sponsor for me," he said.

"I won the Johnnie Walker World Championship event back in 1994, then a couple of years later I won the Johnnie Walker SuperTour event, which was played over five days in five different countries in Asia. That was quite a week.

"Then in 1997 I managed to win this tournament, the Johnnie Walker Classic, when it was played right at the start of the year in Australia, and then again in Australia in 2003."

Els will always have fond memories of his 2003 triumph at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Perth after completing the first 10 holes of the tournament in eight under par and finishing with a European Tour record of 29-under 259 for the four rounds.

"Something like that would be nice again this week!" jested the twice U.S. Open champion, who is in Beijing for the first time.

However, Els faces a strong field this week in an event which is jointly sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian Tours.

Fellow South African and world number five Retief Goosen is also playing, along with Australia's Adam Scott and European Ryder Cup players Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Casey and Luke Donald.

Englishman Donald, who finished in a creditable tie for third on his Masters debut two weeks ago, is looking forward to his first tournament in Asia.

"I've always wanted to come to Asia but have been pre-occupied in America and Europe," world number 13 Donald told reporters at Pine Valley.

"I'm feeling good about my game at the moment but I just hope the wind stops blowing here a little bit."

Leading the Asian challenge this week are Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant, Singaporean Mardan Mamat, India's Jyoti Randhawa and local favourite Zhang Lian-wei.

The Johnnie Walker Classic, one of five events being staged in China on the 2005 European Tour, starts on Thursday.

 

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