Ernie Els set to compete in Scottish Open

Ernie Els: Could yet play in the Scottish Open. Picture: PA
Ernie Els: Could yet play in the Scottish Open. Picture: PA
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OPEN champion Ernie Els is on the verge of handing Scottish Open organisers a massive boost by playing in next week’s event at Castle Stuart.

Immediately after winning the BMW International Open in Munich nine days ago, the South African strongly hinted he’d be withdrawing from the Inverness event despite teeing up in it for the last two years.

“I see that my name is down to play the Scottish Open, but my plan is not to play,” said Els in Germany as he appeared to deliver a crushing blow to the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored tournament.

But, having decided that a three-week break is probably going to be too long heading into his defence of the Claret Jug at Muirfield, he’s now almost certain to be joining world No 6 Phil Mickelson in the Highlands.

“I’m thinking about playing in the Scottish Open again,” Els told The Scotsman yesterday. “I’m not quite there, but I feel that I might need a little run before The Open.

“I spoke to my management and, though I’m sure they’ll be laughing down their sleeves at this, I feel that three weeks off is a long time for me. When I take time off, it’s normally in South Africa in December when I just chill in the ocean and so on. I might need a little bit of a run before The Open so I might go to the Scottish Open – it’s starting to look a little bit more doable.”

Els visited Muirfield last Thursday for the first time since winning the last Open Championship there in 2002 and is planning to return for two more practice rounds tomorrow and Thursday. But, while world No 2 Rory McIlroy will head for East Lothian without another competitive outing despite his struggles, Els is keen to retain a match sharpness.

“We’ve got a hell of run through from The Open to the USPGA, then the FedEx Cup in America and so forth,” he added. “But you’ve got to be able to hit a golf shot under pressure. You can only practice so much and do all your drills etc so many times. I am a professional golfer and I’ve got to do things that feel right for me and I’m starting to feel it would be right to play in the Scottish Open.”

Newly-crowned Irish Open champion Paul Casey has confirmed he’ll be returning to the Highlands, where he played on the winning Walker Cup team at Nairn in 1999.