ERNIE Els, the Open champion, has defended Lee Westwood’s decision to pull out of this week’s Dunhill Links Championship, even though it has left the £3.5 million event with only three members of Europe’s Ryder Cup-winning team in the field.
“We all saw what energy they went through last week,” said the South African. “To then get on a plane and come over here can’t be expected.”
Westwood’s withdrawal left Paul Lawrie and Martin Kaymer, two former winners, as well as Swede Peter Hanson as the only players from the team in Medinah to have kept this week’s event, one of the biggest on the European Tour, on their schedule.
“Even with the stature of this event, it’s the one time I think guys can pull out of a tournament,” added Els, who is being joined this week by two other South African major winners in recent years, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
“There’s a good case to make here. I saw Lee had pulled out, but the Tour and the organisers have got to understand that it’s very difficult for guys to keep getting themselves up for tournaments. It’s probably better, in fact, if they don’t play as they would just be going through the motions. We’ve all been there. It’s difficult.”
Els has also been in the same situation Rory McIlroy found himself as he faced a mad rush to Medinah on Sunday after he mixed up his American time zones and was minutes away from being late for his singles match.
“Many times... and for different reasons,” he said with a laugh. “I remember in Hawaii once, I totally overslept and it was the first round of the tournament on a course where there’s out of bounds on the left and the right of the first hole.
“I just made it to the tee and dribbled something down the fairway, though I actually went on to play quite well. I think it’s a quick wake-up call when you are late and I don’t think it bothered Rory too much.”
Els, who confirmed he will be back at Castle Stuart next summer to play in the Scottish Open for the third year in a row, has had little time to reflect on his dramatic Open Championship triumph at Royal Lytham in July. “I would love to have had a break,” he said before heading out to play his one and only practice round for the Dunhill Links Championship.
“I know this is my job but I’ve been busy ever since the Open, having played in the PGA then the FedEx Cup. I haven’t had time to really reflect.”
He admitted his second success in golf’s oldest major had given him “new hope and new confidence” and is relishing a 2013 major schedule that includes Muirfield, where he won in 2004. “I’m 43 in a couple of weeks and I’ve got to think of my future,” said the Big Easy. “Winning the Open again has changed a lot of things for me as I’m playing in every major for the next five years and I’ve got think that I got a chance to, hopefully, win one or a couple more.”
Els is relishing having some links turf under his feet again this week and is hoping it will spark a return to form, having been unable to fire on all cylinders since he came with a dramatic late charge to pip Adam Scott in Lancashire.
“I haven’t played great golf since then. Whatever the reason, I’m not sure. But, after a win like that, you maybe subconsciously switch off a bit. I think I’ve maybe done that a bit.”