Ernie Els seeks to peak for Masters
Former champion Ernie Els goes into this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational with one eye firmly fixed on next month's Masters in Augusta, Georgia.
The South African would dearly love to win his first green jacket at Augusta National after several close calls and spent three days there earlier this month to fine-tune his preparation.
"Some players have got their dream already, players like Tiger (Woods) and some of the guys who have retired now," Els, popularly known as the 'Big Easy', told reporters at the Bay Hill Club on Wednesday.
"I'm still chasing that dream, meaning the grand slam, and Masters is one of them. I'm really looking forward to trying to fit a green jacket on."
A three-times major winner who clinched the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and the British Open at Muirfield in 2002, Els is halfway towards a career grand slam.
"I'm getting on, I'm 37 years old now," added the former world number one, who needs the Masters and PGA Championship to complete a full sweep.
"But I've had one real close call at the Masters, three years ago with Phil (Mickelson), and I've had some other really good finishes there, probably four really decent shots at it."
Els, who tied for eighth on his debut at Augusta National in 1994, led by two strokes with five holes to play at the 2004 Masters before finishing a stroke behind the American left-hander.
The pair thrilled the crowds with an epic battle of shot-making, Els closing with a five-under-par 67 before Mickelson sealed victory with a birdie at the last.
Els, who failed to hit top form last year after being sidelined for four months at the end of 2005 with a knee injury, is in confident mood for the Masters in three week's time.
"My game, right now, is really good," he said. "It's better than it was last year and the year before, so I feel I've got a really good shot.
"I've spent a lot of time on my golf game since after the British Open last year. I don't think about my knee any more, so I've got no excuses. Basically I'm ready to play."
Should Els find the key to success at the April 5-8 Masters, he says he might even celebrate by taking time off to watch his country's cricket team at the World Cup in the Caribbean.
"If I have a really great Masters, I might go (to the World Cup) the week afterwards," he said with a smile. "But so far it's not planned."
This week, though, Els is looking forward to tackling a Bay Hill layout that has been changed since last year from a par-72 to a par-70.
"It's a tough golf course, but one that seems to suit my eye," said the South African, champion here in 1998 but winless on the PGA Tour since late 2004.
"At just over 7,100 yards, it's not a monster by today's standards, but it can play a little longer than it looks on paper because the fairways are often quite soft."
Els, who recently switched to golf club manufacturer Callaway, likes his chances this week.
"I'm so excited now, especially with my new equipment and Callaway and the new golf ball and the driver and stuff," he said. "I feel like a rookie almost again. I've got new energy.
Els is scheduled to tee off at 1242 local time (1742 GMT) with compatriot Rory Sabbatini and American Paul Goydos in Thursday's opening round.
March 15, 2007