LOS ANGELES -- Ernie Els believes having to qualify for the Masters this year will motivate him to get back to playing his best golf.
The three-time major winner, 42, has been eligible to play at Augusta National every year since his debut in 1994, but Els' poor form last season saw him drop out of the world's top 50.
2012 NORTHERN TRUST OPEN
This year's edition of the Northern Trust Open is the 48th PGA Tour event that Riviera has hosted since it opened in 1926.
"Obviously the Masters is right around the corner," said Els as he prepared for the Northern Trust Open. "I've never really been in that position where I had to try and qualify for it because I've been fortunate enough to basically glide through and get in there.
"I've got to do some work, and I think it's good for me. It will keep me focused, believe me, get me trying, and I think that that's a good thing," he added. "I'm going to play quite a few tournaments now running up to Augusta, so I'll give myself a good chance of getting in.
"It's a motivation, but my goal this year is to really get back and play proper golf and maybe get back to that short putter," he explained. "I think I'm close to getting back to that and playing the way I can play and I think if I do that the rest will take care of itself.
"[When] I started out in life, I wanted to be the best player in the world and win as many tournaments as I could. I got married and had a family, and your direction goes a little different way," he said. "I'm still a professional golfer and I still want to win golf tournaments this year and in the future."
This will be the eighth time Els has played the Northern Trust Open, winning in 1999, and the South African, who has a successful golf course design business, is impressed with the layout of the Riviera Country Club course.
"I love the bunkering. I think it's phenomenal," he said. "I love the angles they have with their greens, the way the course flows -- you've got to draw a lot of shots, fade a lot of shots."
Els will be joined in the field by world No. 1 Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, with the Spaniard equally complimentary of Riveria, ranking the course as one of his favourites.
"When it plays firm, it's one of the best that we get all year and I think it's got a mix of tough driving holes with some holes with small greens, small targets," he said. "And then the putting surfaces are quite difficult -- when they're fast like they are now, they get very, very tricky."