PGA wants Els to play in U.S.

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

If the PGA Tour is looking for a fight with Ernie Els, they may have just come to the right place.

Els, who is hoping to become a five-time winner of the World Match Play Championship over Wentworth's demanding layout this week, just outside London, revealed yesterday that he has received a tough-talking letter from the PGA Tour asking that he devote more time to playing in the United States.

The myopia of the PGA Tour in this matter is stunning. Els may be No. 2 behind Vijay Singh but is the sport's No. 1 worldwide ambassador. No tournament is too remote, no overseas flight too gruelling for the South African to handle. In an era when more and more players are moving from continent to continent, it smacks of splendid isolation that the Americans think they can keep the World No. 2 (perhaps on his way to No. 1) to themselves.

Tiger Woods may once have had the aura of a global missionary of the links, but it is Els who walks the walk today. He owns homes in his native South Africa, in Orlando and a third right at Wentworth.

"There's a world outside America and I'm part of it," said Els yesterday. "They can't restrict me from playing where I want. They need to know that I think the golfing world has changed through the years."

What is even more curious about the intent of the letter is the fact Els has met all the criteria set out by the PGA Tour every year he has been a professional. They demand that PGA Tour members play a minimum of 15 Tour tournaments and this year, Els has played 17. He also played 15 in Europe and won the Order of Merit on that tour as the leading money winner.

For some unfathomable reason, the Tour believes that the 15-tournament rule is not enough to satisfy them in Els' case when it is the number they themelves have set out in their by-laws.

"They say they want over 20 (tournaments) and nothing abroad," said Els. "It means if I want to go play in Dubai, I have to ask them for a release and in exchange for that release I have to give them one extra tournament."

Woods himself has played only 18 PGA tournaments this year. What are the odds he gets a letter?

"Hey Tiger, get off your duff and play some golf," yours truly, Tim Finchem. Yeah, that's going to happen soon.

"It's been on my mind all year," said Els. "I'll talk to (commissioner Finchem) when I get there. I'm preparing a letter in response to send back to them and after that we'll talk because they sent quite a strong letter to me.

"We've got to talk this out because I'm defintely not hurting their tour with my schedule. I'm not hurting any other players on their tour because none of them will do what I'm doing. So, I'm not hurting anybody. I'm just helping. I'm playing all over the world."

The bottom line on this stupidity is that the PGA Tour needs Ernie Els way more than he needs them. All he does is bring great honour and prestige to any tournament he plays.

Els has long since passed the point where he plays for money, if he ever did. This week, for example, he's playing for one of the biggest first prizes in golf, one million British pounds, or about $2.5 million Canadian.

BIG MONEY

"Obviously when you win tournaments, there's money involved," said Els. "I would say now that winning the tournaments means more to me than the money. For the things that I have to do, I'm kind of already covered (financially). So, any money I make now I put away for a rainy day."

Canadian Mike Weir is teeing it up at Wentworth for only the second time since his agonizing second-place finish at the Canadian Open. He's the fourth seed in this 16-man event and will play 13th seed Thomas Levet in the opening round this morning. Weir had been scheduled to play two weeks ago at the American Express World Golf Championship in Ireland but had to beg off because of the flu.

TOP SEED

Tournament organizers have made Els the No. 1 seed as the defending champion. They have set up the draw for a potential championship match between Els and Singh.

The irony for the globe-trotting Els is that this is his one home game of the year. He owns a house on the 16th fairway.

"No long flights, no time change, sleep in my own bed and wake up to play a great golf course at the bottom of my garden," said Els. "Wonderful."

Apparently, Tim Finchem doesn't think so.


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