Ernie Els has developed the happy knack of defending a title successfully over the years, but only once in his illustrious career has he won a tournament three times in a row. Now the South African aims to emulate his three successive HSBC World Match Play titles between 1994 and 1996 by capturing his third consecutive Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia, this week.
In 2003, Els claimed ‘repeat’ victories in the Heineken Classic and also the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club in England and already this year he has retained possession of the Sony Open in Hawaii on the US PGA Tour.
Now, last year’s Volvo Order of Merit winner turns his attention to the ninth Heineken Classic at a venue which Els has made his own since the tournament moved from Perth, Western Australia, to the outskirts of Melbourne in 2002.
So far, the World Number Three has kept the opposition at bay, winning by five strokes in 2002 and by one from Nick Faldo of England and Australian Peter Lonard 12 months ago.
The quality of the venue has attracted the appropriate quality of field, with Els being joined at the Dr Alister Mackenzie masterpiece by fellow Major Champions Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle of Scotland, Ian Woosnam of Wales and Faldo.
Woosnam, in fact, claimed the first Heineken Classic at the superb Vines Resort in Perth in 1996 and he is one of five champions in the field. Spain’s Miguel Martin (1997), Australian Jarrod Moseley (1999) and Michael Campbell of New Zealand (2000 and 2001) are all aiming to revive memories of past successes.
A total of 11 winners from The 2003 European Tour International Schedule are also appearing ‘Down Under’, including the most recent ‘repeat’ champion, Trevor Immelman, who retained the South African Airways Open title in his home country just a few weeks ago.
Another is England’s Paul Casey, who performed solidly in the Heineken Classic in 2003 before going on to capture the ANZ Championship in Sydney the following week.