Ernie Els is back at St Andrews, chasing a first elusive victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship starting on Thursday.
Twice Els enjoyed success as a member of the South African team in the old Dunhill Cup, the precursor tournament to the Alfred Dunhill Links, winning with Retief Goosen and David Frost, but that was almost 20 years ago.
“A win at the Home of Golf feels very sweet and I was lucky enough to experience that as part of the South African team. It would obviously be nice to have done that in the Dunhill Links, which is a championship I would 100 percent love to win.
“Ever since they introduced this format back in 2001, with pro’s playing with amateurs, it’s been one of my favourite weeks of the year. I love Scotland, the fans are the best, and we get to play on three amazing links courses,” said the man known as the Big Easy.
The keenness is there, but Els is now 47.
Does he still have the same appetite for the game now, as he did when he was winning four Major Championships between 1994 and 2012?
“I haven’t played my best stuff the last couple of years, but I still love the challenge, the practising, working hard on my game and competing. I’ve still got the hunger. Hopefully I can get something going soon, and then who knows. I still believe I have the game to win.”
Els has twice come close to winning the Alfred Dunhill Links, only to lose by one shot. He says the closest was 2001 when he made a birdie on the 18th green on the Sunday to finish at 17-under-par.
He recalls: “It looked like it might be enough for at least a play-off, but then Paul Lawrie drained a 40-footer from the Valley of Sin to beat me by a shot.
“Again in 2003, I shot 20-under, finishing with back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th, but again got beaten by a shot by Lee Westwood. I’m still speaking to them, though,” he said with a rueful smile.
“I was also very close to winning the Team Championship with my dad Neels. That would have been very special,” he added.