The Asian Tour’s elite have Ernie Els in their sights at the inaugural Indian Masters this week, looking to pile more misery on the South African after his defeat to Tiger Woods in Dubai.
The world number four leads the cast at the $2,5-million tournament that marks the European Tour’s debut in a country where the sport is booming.
He got his first feel for the picturesque par 71 Lodhi course at Delhi Golf Club on Tuesday when he teamed with local hero Arjun Atwal to win a challenge match ahead of India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and United States veteran Mark O’Meara.
The ”Big Easy” insists his last hole defeat to the unstoppable Woods at the Desert Classic on Sunday has already been forgotten.
”I’m looking forward to the experience [in India]. I have to put behind me what happened last week in Dubai. It’s history — there’s nothing I can do about it now,” he said.
”What I can focus on are the positives; the fact that I was swinging the club well all week in Dubai, hitting my driver great, and that overall I felt comfortable with my game.”
Also in the field is Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who finished fifth in Dubai and will be keen to keep his fine run of form going.
The Ryder Cup trio of Thomas Bjorn, David Howell and Darren Clarke are all looking to rediscover their touch.
Englishman Howell, in particular, feels he has a point to prove after slipping down the world rankings.
”I have always been in the top-50, but slipped out a bit as I didn’t have a very good 2007 season. Right now it’s just about getting back into form,” he said.
”I’m a better player than I thought I ever would be, however I am not satisfied with my current stature and believe that there is more to accomplish.”
The biggest threat to Els though could come from a stellar line-up of Asian Tour regulars including Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng, and the strong Indian presence here.
Local hopes rest with Singh, Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, and Shiv Kapur, all of whom are familiar with the course, which is dotted with tombs left over from the Lodhi Dynasty of the 17th century.
And Singh, who received the Padma Shri (the equivalent of a knighthood) last year for his exploits on the world stage in 2006, had a warning for Els and the European contingent here.
”It’s a very demanding golf course. You have to be very patient. You have got to plan a lot of golf shots, especially off the tee, and you can’t get too aggressive,” he said, adding that the Indian players would have an advantage.
”Obviously I’ve played here quite a bit and I think it does give an advantage because we’ve played it so much and we know the course well.”
Randhawa could be the man to beat, having won four times previously at the venue.
”I have won at the Delhi Golf Club three times on the Asian Tour and once on the Indian Tour, but it will be a lot more difficult to win because there are more world class players playing this week,” he said.
”But I do have a great record here and can take a lot of positives from that.”
The other Asian Tour hotshots out to impress at the Tour’s first event of the 2008 season include big-hitting Australian Scott Hend, Simon Yates of Scotland and Malaysian duo Iain Steel and Airil Rizman. – Sapa-AFP