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Els & Woosnam: U.S. players have gone soft

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa -- Two of the world's leading golfers in this week's South African Open have hinted that American players might be getting a little soft.

Ernie Els and Ian Woosnam are both teeing it up in the South African Open, the second of two European co-sanctioned events on the Southern Africa Tour and which begins at the Stellenbosch Golf Club on Thursday.

For most of Europe's professionals, it is the start of what is set to be yet another hectic jet-setting year.

The European Tour has become somewhat of an anomaly, and only makes its first stop in Europe in March after visiting South Africa, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and the U.S.

According to Woosnam, American golfers, or those who play the U.S. PGA Tour, have it fairly easy while their European counterparts have to deal with the setback of travelling vast distances to tournaments.

"It's hard work for the European Tour players because we spend half our lives on an airplane," the Welsh Wizard lamented.

"European players have to contend with different time zones, while those who play in America or Asia have pretty much the same conditions week in and week out."

Els, winner of last week's South African PGA Championship by a comfortable four shots and who plays most of his golf in the U.S., had to agree with Woosnam.

"That's definitely the case," said the World No. 4, who is the defending champion this week.

"The U.S. PGA Tour is a lot more comfortable to play on and that's why so many professionals want to get onto it.

"There is a lot more money on offer and it's easier to travel. When we play on the West Coast for two months, the conditions are constant. The same goes for the Florida swing.

"The Americans have got it all figured out really. But then again, they lost to Europe in the Ryder Cup and to the International Team in the Presidents Cup, so maybe it's a little too comfortable for them," said Els.

"I learned a lot playing in Europe early in my career. You learn to play in different conditions and that's probably why I did so well in the majors."

The "Big Easy," as he is known in America, will be hunting his fourth S.A. Open title this week over a course he played one of his first professional tournaments on in the 1989 South African Masters.

Els was in devastating form last week, but says that win is now out of his system as he gears up for a new challenge.

"Obviously I've got some confidence coming into this tournament, but this is a new week and a new tournament. You're only as good as your last win, and I still need to work on my putting. But the swing is there and I'm just enjoying striking the ball well."

Also in the field are England's Nick Faldo, Germany's Bernhard Langer and Sam Torrance of Scotland.

For Faldo, erasing the memory of a dismal start to the year, which saw the six-time major champion missing the first cut of the European season by six shots last week, will be a priority.

The 41-year-old was described by playing partner Mark McNulty as playing like "some rank 24-handicapper" during his two rounds of 77 and 76.

David Frost, also in the field and Els' Dunhill Cup team-mate, returns to the course he learnt his game on and where he won the South African Masters in 1987.

Frost finished joint third last week, closing with a low 66, and posed the greatest challenge to Els when Els won his third S.A. Open title at Durban Country Club last year.

Other big names in the field include Denmark's Ryder Cup star Thomas Bjørn, Swede Per-Ulrik Johansson as well as former champions Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe and South Africa's Wayne Westner.

The par-71 Stellenbosch Golf Club course has undergone some major changes recently, and will be playing long with punishing kikuyu rough.