World No. 2 Els confident ahead of Sun City Challenge

SUN CITY, South Africa, AFP

World No 2 Ernie Els of South Africa is confident that the back injury he suffered three weeks ago is now behind him, and that he can make a strong bid to defend his title in the Sun City Golf Challenge beginning here Thursday. Els walked off the course after just nine holes in the World Golf Championships at Valderrama in Spain earlier this month because of back pain, and flew to London for treatment and rest. “I feel like I’m back to normal again,” he said Tuesday from his Southern Cape farm, shortly before boarding a flight to Sun City. “I played golf for the first time on Sunday and there wasn’t even the slightest hint of pain. I feel strong, I’ve had a good year and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t defend my title.” The Sun City tournament, with its 12-man field, has come to be known as “Africa’s Major” and from 1981 until 1999 was known as the Million Dollar Challenge because it offered a first prize of one million dollars (1,166,526 euros). But this year this has been doubled to two million dollars making it the richest in golf. The reason is that the Challenge clashes directly with the Tiger Woods Foundation’s Williams World Challenge, also a 12-man field, which is being staged in America from Thursday. “It’s a pity because Tiger enhances any tournament,” said Golf Challenge tournament director Alastair Roper. “However there’s no clash either next year or in 2002 so there’s a good chance we’ll get Tiger back in Africa then. “Having said this, we still have an exceptional field at Sun City this week. England’s Lee Westwood, who scored a record-equalling six wins on the European Tour in 2000, has had a dream year and in terms of worldwide successes this year is second only to Tiger Woods. Then there’s New Zealander Michael Campbell, who is not far behind with five wins.” Woods gearing up

for a challenge Who needs practice less than Tiger Woods? Probably no one, but Woods got the jump on the rest of the field in the US$3.5 million Williams World Challenge when he showed up Tuesday at Sherwood Country Club to play a practice round a day ahead of everyone else. Woods founded the 72-hole event, which begins Thursday, and benefits his foundation.

Five of the players ranking in the top 10 are in the 12-man field. Besides Woods, they are No. 4 David Duval, No. 7 Davis Love III, No. 8 Hal Sutton and No. 9 Vijay Singh. Tom Lehman is the defending champion.

The winner makes US$1 million. Last place is worth US$120,000.