Els begins 2012 at Volvo Champions needing to climb up world rankings

ernie els
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Ernie Els knows he needs a strong start to this season to retain his spot in some of the game's biggest events.
PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 1:20 p.m.

Ernie Els has a fight on his hands as he starts his 2012 season this week at the Volvo Golf Champions -- and he hasn’t been helped by a change in how the world rankings are figured.

The former world No. 1 has dropped from 56th to 71st since the start of the year even though he hasn’t played since Dec. 11.

Els' big drop is explained by the fact that it is now a player's last 52 events that count rather than the last 54. The two he has lost early in 2010 were both wins -- first in the WGC-CA championship in Miami and then the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

As a result, Els is in danger of falling out of the sport's elite group, even before the Masters in April, a tournament he has not missed since his debut in 1994. Only the top 64 qualify for next month's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

The 42-year-old's hopes of making an instant move back up the rankings have been boosted, however, by the fact that this week's defending champion Paul Casey has had to pull out after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding and world top four Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer are not at Fancourt, either.

They all prefer to wait until next week's Abu Dhabi Championship to begin their 2012 campaigns -- Tiger Woods will be there, too -- but Els is delighted about the switch of the event from Bahrain to a course he knows so well.

There is another bonus for him about the venue.

"It is literally just down the road, so I don't even have to pack my bags," said Els. "I can sleep in my own bed and still enjoy some good old home cooking. There are maybe only two or three tournaments a year where I can do that, so it's a real treat."

The same applied to Wentworth Golf Club in England -- and he won a record seven Volvo World Match Play titles there.

"Actually Fancourt is a treat any time you play it and I've had some memorable experiences there over the years, notably in South African Opens and in the Presidents Cup," Els added.

The 2003 match was tied after the playoff between Els and Woods was halted by darkness.

"I also filmed my first-ever instruction book and video there and that's going back even further in time … all the way to 1994, in fact," he added! "It's a special place and the Links is a great golf course. I can't think of a better location to tee off my new season.

"Trust me, I always look forward to getting back into the swing of tournament golf. The first tournament of the new calendar year always feels like a new beginning," Els said. "I love it. And even after 20-plus years as a tournament professional I still get excited about the prospect of a year's competitive golf ahead of me."

The Volvo Champions, which last year had a 98-strong field, has a field of only 35 this time after it was decided to restrict it to last season's European Tour winners and those with 10 or more victories on the circuit.

British Open champion Darren Clarke and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel are among those present, as are past and present Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, plus Padraig Harrington, who has fallen even further down the rankings than Els.