South Africa's Ernie Els has 71 wins under his belt. Photo: Wallace Woon/EPA

SAUDI ARABIA – It's time for the next generation of young South African professionals to start competing for Majors and big events around the world.

This was what 49-year-old Ernie Els, who has 71 wins plus four Major titles, said on the eve of the opening round of the $3.5-million Saudi International yesterday.

In his almost 30 years on the regular tours, the Big Easy, who has won two Open Championships and two US Opens, is still keen on giving the young guns a run for their money before joining the Champions Tour full time next year.

“We have some outstanding talent playing on the international stage but it’s time for them to start stepping up and start competing for the Majors and in the bigger tournaments. And they should be contending for places in the Presidents Cup team, too,” Els said soon after participating in yesterday’s Pro-Am.

The talent he was talking about are the likes of Brandon Stone, who has won three times on the European Tour, George Coetzee, who has tasted success four times, and Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Dean Burmester, all of whom are competing here.

“I’m excited about our young talent. We’ve always had great talent because of all the structures that are in place, and they will continue to come through,” he added. “I’d like to see the guys kick on a little bit now. I know the guys are hungry and it will be a matter of time before we see another major surge of top players dominating around the world.”

SA has some outstanding talent playing on the international stage, said Els. Photo: CJ Gunther/EPA
SA has some outstanding talent playing on the international stage, said Els. Photo: CJ Gunther/EPA

Of his own game Els says he is happy after finishing joint 13th at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but added he could have finished in the top five or top three.

He said: “I’m very happy with the way I finished in Dubai - it was a bitter-sweet situation. On Sunday I didn’t score that well. I had opportunities on 16, 17, and 18 to make birdies to finish in the top five or even the top three which I didn’t take.

“It was disappointing. But on the whole I’ve got to look at the week as a positive one as I had the opportunity to be in contention from the start of the event. Now I’ve got to take those positives into this week to see where we can go.”

With a stellar field here, Els is ready to go in against the top four ranked players in the world and express himself over the next four days.

He did just that at Dubai and wanted to continue as he progressed towards his 50th birthday.

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“My swing is good. The greens are very different from the ones in Dubai last week. The greens were very firm and very fast out there but here it is a lot slower. But my game feels good and I’m looking forward to the week,” he said.

“I’ve been putting a lot of work in my game and have a new guy that I’ve been working with on my swing. He’s in the US and I’ve already started to feel comfortable,” he said.

“However I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and want to take it week by week, day by day. I want to start contending again as it is a big year for me at my age. I’m 49 now and have started looking at the other tour. I’ll be 50 in October so want to start playing some good golf while still playing with the youngsters.”

Els will be off early today (7.15am SA time) and is teamed with England’s Andy Sullivan and Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla.

Iqbal Khan