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Ernie's sights on a showdown

THE LINKS AT FANCOURT: Home of the 2003 Presidents Cup golf tournament which commences on Thursday. Local enthusiasts are hoping for a showdown between Ernie Els and Tiger Woods when the tournament concludes on Sunday.

Vijay Singh, and not Ernie Els, has emerged among golf enthusiasts as the favourite to take on Tiger Woods head-to-head when the Presidents Cup draws to a close at Fancourt in George on Sunday. That is, assuming that Woods gains the final slot as he leads his American team against the International team that starts on Thursday. But the Big Easy, who went out in 36 degrees heat for a practice round when the course opened on Monday, has his sights firmly set on playing through to the final showdown after four days of links action by a quality field consisting of the world's top nine players as well as 15 among the top 20. "I've got to be there -- it's what the country wants, so I've got to do it," said Els. Woods tested the man-made links in the morning and was happy with the way he performed. Els said that he did not think that the links would favour anybody. "It is such a unique golf course. You've almost got to be a high-ball hitter -- especially coming into those greens. And then you've almost got to hit the ball low coming in from the trees because the wind can blow. So it's not going to favour anybody. "Hopefully our team will be a bit more on form than their's." The on-form player most are looking at is Singh, the tall Fijian whose red-hot form pushed him to No2 in the world recently. "Vijay is playing very well at the moment," said Els. "And Retief Goosen had a very solid year again. Nick Price again has had a solid year. Myself, I've been playing okay. Tim Clarke has been very solid himself. If you look at our team -- the bulk of the team is really on-form and I think they are right. "On the other side, some of their players haven't been up to their best form, but in match-playoff that can change. "I still don't think we are going in as favourites. I think the Americans have beaten us more times than we have beaten them. It should be a lot closer than people think. "I think it's going to be great. The Presidents Cup has been a long time coming. Playing in front of home fans is going to be wonderful. We have got Nick Price also from South Africa and obviously Retief Goosen and Tim Clarke. So we have a strong loyal showing with fans to give us an extra boost." Woods said that before his first visit in 1998, "I've always wanted to return to South Africa. I hope the tournament will provide a boost to the game in South Africa and the entire region." Indeed. The region is abuzz with the impact of the Presidents Cup. The prospect of international visitors with big bucks generated a property boom that began to climb dramatically six months ago with a 100 percent increase in prices for prime sites. The tournament will give unprecedented exposure to one of South Africa's most beautiful natural strips.



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