'Big Easy' Els returns to a favored PGA Tour haunt

Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:07pm EDT

South Africa's Ernie Els hits from the sand on the second hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia April 11, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

South Africa's Ernie Els hits from the sand on the second hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia April 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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(Reuters) - Four-times major winner Ernie Els returns this week to one of his favorite cities, where he shares the alluring nickname of 'The Big Easy,' to make his eighth career start at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

At a PGA Tour event where he has always enjoyed a "good vibe," the smooth-swinging South African lost out to American Jason Dufner in a playoff for the title in 2012, then tied for 15th last year at the TPC Louisiana.

"At the forefront of my mind right now is making sure I put all my efforts into trying to produce a better performance at this week's Zurich Classic," Els wrote on his blog. "In the recent past, that's been something of a good omen for me.

"In fact, in my previous two appearances here I've been 19 under (par) ... that's a tidy scoring average of around 68, which reflects my fondness for this golf course.

"Pete Dye has always been one of my favorite designers and courses like TPC Louisiana just seem to fit my eye."

Els, a 19-times winner on the PGA Tour, will aim to feed off those positive memories in front of supportive fans as he seeks his first victory on the U.S. circuit since the 2012 British Open.

"The vibe here in New Orleans is good and the galleries are fantastic," said the 44-year-old South African, who finished third at the event in 2001 when it was held at English Turn Golf & Country Club.

"It's a great tournament and, although this is my fifth straight week on the road, I just want to channel all my energies into this and see if I can kick-start my season and get something going here."

Els has been drawn in a high-profile grouping for the first two rounds at the TPC Louisiana, along with U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and local favorite and 2001 winner David Toms.

Another trio likely to attract big galleries is the all-American threesome of Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel.

Reed has been one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour over the past six months with three tournament wins while fellow young gun Fowler seems to be back to his best after recording top-10s in his last two starts.

Horschel clinched last year's Zurich Classic by a shot, sealing his maiden victory on the circuit with a closing eight-under-par 64, and will aim this week to become the event's first back-to-back winner since Paraguay's Carlos Franco in 2000.

Seven former Zurich Classic champions are in the field, including Jerry Kelly (2009), Andres Romero (2008), Nick Watney (2007), Tim Petrovic (2005) and Vijay Singh (2004).

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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