Ernie taking it nice and easy

ERNIE ELS, bidding to take the world number one spot from Tiger Woods, is to curtail his travelling this year.

Although the South African still plans to play a ‘world schedule’ he has decided that he needs to take more breaks. Last year Els started off with rush, playing twice in Hawaii, moving straight to Singapore, then taking two weeks in Australia.

On a hot streak, Els won four of the first five tournaments he played in, but he then crashed out in the first round of the Match Play Championship.

'Big Easy' admitted his globetrotting start to the season was perhaps not the best of ideas.

“It took its toll there,” admits Els. “When I got to Bay Hill, I was already kind of done. It was a tough schedule. I played pretty solid all year. After the PGA, I didn't play quite up to my standard. I think the travelling has got something to do with it.”

Last year Els spend 350 hours travelling on his private jet. But Els insists that he still wants to be a ‘world’ player.

“Last year, I was still running across, playing on both tours in the middle of the year,” Els said. “It will be a little bit quieter - still a full schedule, still a world schedule.”

His first clash against Woods comes when he defends his Mercedes Championship in Hawaii this weekend.

Els faces a star-studded 30-player field that features eight of the top 10 players in the world.

A red-hot Els fired a 31-under 261 last year for an eight-stroke win over South Korea's KJ Choi and American Rocco Mediate.

Besides a healthy Woods, the Big Easy will also have to contend with American Davis Love, Canadian Mike Weir, South Africa's Retief Goosen, Fiji's Vijay Singh and Australia's Adam Scott.

Woods starts the 2004 PGA Tour season healthy and hungry for his first major victory in 18 months.

“Last year at this time, I wasn't sure when I would be able to compete again,” Woods said. “This year my knee is sound and I am ready to go.”

Woods, the reigning PGA Player of the Year, has spent the last couple weeks getting in shape for what he hopes is another monster season.

Woods could also be hearing wedding bells in 2004 as he popped the question to Swedish model Elin Nordegren while they were vacationing in South Africa in November.

Woods has committed to playing in at least three of the west-coast swing tournaments which cover an eight-week period.

Besides Kapalua, Woods will compete in the Buick Invitational and the WGC Match Play Championships. Both are in the San Diego area.

Woods plans to travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in March for the Desert Classic. He withdrew from the event last year because of security concerns. He also plans to play in the Masters in April, US Open in June, British Open in July, PGA Championship in August before getting ready for September's Ryder Cup.

Woods will also take part in Miyazaki, Japan at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in November.

Woods won five PGA events last year and was named Player of the Year for the fifth-straight year.

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