Big Easy knows good and bad of playing Royal Melbourne

2011-11-15 09:23

Melbourne, Australia – Ernie Els knows what Royal Melbourne can do to a golfer probably more than anyone.

Els was a member of the international team that won the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and had three straight wins on the Alister Mackenzie-designed course at the Heineken Classic.

His last came in 2004, when he missed a chance at a magical 59 by one stroke in the opening round and nearly squandered an eight-shot lead in the final round before eking out a win over Adam Scott.

Els says he’ll “take it personally” if the US wins the Presidents Cup again when play begins Thursday.

“I’ve had some great tournaments here in the past, a great win in ‘98 for our team,” the South African said today.  “It’s always nice having some experience winning on it.”

Els also finished second in the Heineken Classic in 2005, the last year the tournament was held at Royal Melbourne and coincidentally, the last time he played Down Under. The memories from the course – and particularly from 1998 – are still vivid.

“We gelled very well as a team,” Els said. “I remember watching us play on the 18th hole, seeing some really big shots pulled off by the team, some amazing chip-ins. That was a really a great factor. We got the crowd behind us and we rode that wave.”

Els said it was “crazy” the international team hasn’t won since then. “I’ve been playing (on Presidents Cup teams) ever since 1996, and obviously lost quite a few times,” Els said. “We had one tie (in South Africa in 2003), so it’s hard to take. We don’t really want to keep losing this thing.”

There are five Australians on this year’s team – Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Day and Greg Norman’s captain’s picks Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley – three South Koreans, three South Africans and Japanese 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.

“I love this team,” Els said. “The Aussie boys are ready, a lot of them are playing really good golf.”

He’s not the only one. Els said his countryman Charl Schwartzel, this year’s Masters winner, is also ready to play. “He’s got the perfect ball flight for these greens,” Els said.

As for the possible pairings, Els said it didn’t matter that much on the International team. “We’re professional golfers and we know that we need to win points, no matter who you play with,” Els said. “We can’t keep huffing on about it.”

The competition begins on Thursday with six foursomes (alternate shot) matches, followed by six fourball (better-ball) matches on Friday, five foursomes and five fourballs on Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday.

That’s a total of 34 matches, with 17 1/2 points ensuring a win for either team. Els hopes he’s doing the same thing on the final night that he was 13 years ago at Royal Melbourne. “We had a great Sunday,” Els said, smiling. “I went straight to the plane from the casino.”

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