Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Ernie Els  (Getty Images)
Ernie Els (Getty Images)
Ernie Els starts his bid for a sixth SA Open Championship title on Thursday - and Scottish amateur Michael Stewart will be teeing off with him at Serengeti.

The pairing is the 21 year old Troon golfer's reward for winning the South African amateur title back in March.

"I just heard I might tee it up with Ernie Els," Stewart said at the time.

"That would be just stupendous - I'll have to hit the gym and start beefing up straight away."

In June he lost the final of the British Amateur Championship to Australian Bryden Macpherson and so just missed out on a place in The Open Championship and Masters Tournament.

Two months ago he was part of Great Britain & Ireland's winning Walker Cup side against the Americans, but then his attempt to earn a European Tour card for next season ended at the first stage of Qualifying School.
Els, The European Tour’s all-time leading money winner, is back from the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, where he won only one of his five games in the 19-15 defeat.

The 42 year old first won his national title in 1992 and got his hands on the trophy once more four years later, then in 1998 after it became part of The European Tour International Schedule and then again in 2007 and last December.

"Winning last year at Durban in the tournament's centenary year was one of the highlights of my career," Els said.

"The final round battle with my old friend Retief (Goosen) was one of the most incredible days I've had in 20-plus years as a professional."

They finished 25 and 24 under par.

"That win really meant a lot to me. I came into the week needing a spark to bring my game to life and it happened pretty much from the get-go.

"I could really use some of that magic again. I know I've said it before, but my game is in a pretty healthy state.

"I'm just not making the putts that you need to make in order to lift yourself out of the pack and into contention."

He still has a long way to go to equal the tournament record number of wins, though. Gary Player was champion 13 times.

Goosen is back from Australia for the event as well, having just fallen out of the Official World Golf Ranking's top 50 like Els, while another in the field is England's Simon Dyson, ninth on this season's Race to Dubai and tenth in The Ryder Cup points race.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1OTTO, HennieRSA18-14
T3MCEVOY, RichardENG18-11
T3STRYDOM, OckieRSA18-11
T3AIKEN, ThomasRSA18-11
T6FISHER JNR, TrevorRSA18-10
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