Els, Goosen hope to ease Masters pain

Ernie Els and Retief Goosen will be aiming to ease very different forms of Masters heartache when they tee off at the BMW Asian Open in Shanghai on Thursday as a high-class field aims to impose more misery.

The smooth-swinging South African duo walked off the famed fairways at Augusta National this month with their hopes of securing another Major title blown away in varying, but similarly painful, circumstances.

Els, the world number five, missed the cut by two strokes, an extraordinary failure for the three-time Major champion who last had such a poor performance at Augusta way back in 1995.

”I feel disappointed about missing the cut … I haven’t done that for quite a while. But you know, it happened and you have got to move on from that,” Els said on Wednesday after arriving in Shanghai.

Goosen, meanwhile, led the Masters going into the final round, only to finish joint runner-up two strokes behind American Zach Johnson.

Now the ”Big Easy” and the ”Goose” are on the other side of the world, looking to erase their Masters trauma by winning the $2,3-million BMW Asian Open at the Tomson Pudong Golf Club.

The tournament, co-sanctioned by the European and Asian tours, has attracted one of its strongest fields in its six-year history, with Englishman Paul Casey, Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn among the Ryder Cup talent on show.

Rising Spanish hope Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is also back to defend his BMW crown after a play-off win over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson last year.

All the players in the top 10 of the Asian Tour’s standings are competing this week, with Chinese hopes resting on veteran Zhang Lianwei and 2007 Singapore Masters champion Liang Wenchong.

Goosen, ranked eighth in the world and currently sitting second in the European Order of Merit, said he was approaching his near-miss at Augusta as a good sign, rather than dwelling on the missed opportunity for a third Major.

”It was a positive thing,” he said. ”I played well at the weekend and sort of got my game going, which gives me a boost for the events coming up,” Goosen said.

After the Masters, Els returned to form at the US PGA Verizon Heritage tournament in South Carolina, but suffered more pain when he finished second to unheralded American Boo Weekley, who chipped in for par on the last two holes.

Nevertheless, he welcomed his return to form.

”I didn’t win but I had a good tournament. I feel my game is in pretty good shape,” said Els, who won the 2005 Asian Open.

Casey, the dynamic 29-year-old who finished second on the European Order of Merit last year, was also full of confidence about his chances this week after finishing equal 10th at the Masters.

”I feel fresh, I feel ready after playing the Masters … and if I continue the good golf I played there I should be in for a good week,” the world number 12 said on Tuesday.

Eight-time European Order of Merit champion Montgomerie was equally upbeat, pointing to the tight fairways as one area of potential advantage over the rest of the field.

”It is a demanding driving course and therefore I should do quite well as I drive the ball quite straight, straighter than the norm,” the 43-year-old said.

Adding some spice to the tournament will be John Daly of the United States. The two-time Major winner has made just three cuts this year but sponsors are banking on his big-hitting and charisma to pull in the crowds.

”It’s a damn long way to get here, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Daly, who like Els arrived in Shanghai late thanks to a weather-induced one-day delayed finish in South Carolina.

Among the other notable Asian names in Shanghai are Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant, as well as India’s Shiv Kapur. — Sapa-AFP

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