May 30, 2006

Els banks on Memorial for return to winning ways

DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Without a PGA Tour victory for
more than 18 months, Ernie Els hopes to rediscover the winning
habit at this week's Memorial tournament, one of his favorite

The popular South African, champion in 2004, likes his
chances on the par-72 Muirfield Village Golf Club layout
designed by tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus.

"I look forward to this one every year and it was great to
get that first win in 2004, one of my best performances of that
entire season," Els said on his official Web site.

"I feel good every time I come back and I really like my
chances here."

"This golf course is just one of those layouts that suits
my eye," added the world number six, whose last PGA Tour
success came at the 2004 WGC-American Express Championship in

"There are some golf courses you prefer to others and
they're the ones you tend to play well on. This golf course is
like that for me."

The twice U.S. Open champion, who tied for second at the
2000 Memorial and has produced three other top-10 finishes in
12 starts, is banking on a return to form with his putter.


"I hit a lot of quality golf shots and set up a ton of
chances, but I didn't convert the putts," Els said of his tie
for 19th at last week's PGA Championship in Wentworth, England.

"I played a lot better there than my finish might suggest,
but that's what happens when you struggle on the greens."

Els faces one of the strongest fields of the year at
Muirfield Village.

U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson is back for the first
time since 2002, and world number one Tiger Woods, whose father
Earl died earlier this month, and eighth-ranked David Toms are
the only absentees from the world's top 10.

Another big factor are likely to be the bunkers, which
Nicklaus has made more punitive by the introduction of an
unconventional, long-toothed wooden rake.

The rake, which has tines two-and-a-half inches long and
widely spaced apart, creates gouges in the bunkers to make
recoveries more difficult.

"Bunkers are really supposed to be a penalty," said
Nicklaus, who is not playing this week after being the only
player to compete in each of the previous 30 Memorial

"All I'm trying to do is make the guy think he doesn't want
to be in the bunker, and it's not the place to aim for."


Jim Furyk, the world number five and Memorial champion in
2002, expects a challenge.

"I think it's going to be extremely hard out of the fairway
bunkers, you're not going to see a lot of guys hit greens out
of those bunkers," the 36-year-old said.

"It's going to be interesting, because there are some
severe bunkers out here and severe greens."

American Bart Bryant, who won last year's Memorial by a
stroke from Fred Couples, is back to defend and, like Els, has
targeted an improvement in his putting.

"I haven't played great this year," said Bryant, who has
produced just one top 10 in 12 PGA Tour starts this season.

"I feel like if I can get my putter worked out, get some
issues fixed that I might have a chance to recapture some of
that magic that I had last year."

The tournament starts on Thursday.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles)