Ernie Els is hoping for a happy return to Mission Hills
The South African star designed a course at Mission Hills 11 years ago, but the HSBC WGC event this week is the first time he has been back
Ernie Els may have designed one of the umpteen golf courses at the sprawling Mission Hills complex, but he still admits this week's HSBC WGC Champions tournament at the resort is something of a trip into the unknown.
Els, the British Open champion, heads an elite field for the US$7 million event, which begins tomorrow, but admits he will have to get to grips quickly with the 7,301-yard Olazabal course, which hosted the World Cup from 2007 to 2009. The fourth and final WGC event of the season is being played at Mission Hills for the first time after spending the last seven years in Shanghai.
"I'm glad to be back in China and heading back to Mission Hills," the South African said at the launch for the event at HSBC's headquarters in Hong Kong. "We did a golf course there 11 years ago and I haven't been back since the opening.
"I've never played the Olazabal course, I'm not familiar with it at all, I never played in the World Cups that were held there. I'm going to have to check it out tomorrow and get a feel for it."
The field also includes Masters champion Bubba Watson, plus Phil Mickelson, a four-times major winner' and five other major winners in Paul Lawrie, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and the defending champion, Martin Kaymer.
Ten of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team will be in action, and with Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy taking the week off, it is a chance for the closing pack to narrow the gap.
Els has been going almost non-stop since his Open victory, until a forced break last week with a sprained ankle. "[The ankle's] still a little swollen as you can see, I'm trying to stay off my feet as much as possible," said Els, who is paired with Luke Donald and Dustin Johnson in the opening rounds. It was tennis, not golf, that did it for Else's ankle. "I've been playing tennis my whole life and people always say, 'Move the loose balls off to the back of the court'. I was running for a backhand against my daughter and didn't see this ball and went down," he said.
"It wasn't an ideal scenario, I had to have a lot of treatment just to get here.
"I've been a little off-form since the Open, went through the FedEx in the US, I was hoping for a break but I've never really been able to take a week off so it's a little difficult. But I feel a bit re-energised now, and want to get focused for next year, starting with a really nice tournament here."
Kaymer is hoping some Ryder Cup inspiration can help him defend his title, and having played here in all three World Cups, he knows the course better than most.
"I was playing very well, even before the Ryder Cup, I just couldn't get the proper results that I was hoping for," he said. "That's not really changed, I played good golf but it's not really going my way. It's a time of patience. I need to relax a little bit and try to let it happen and not try to force it."
Mickelson has won this event twice but this is first tournament back since defeat at Medinah.
"I think the first two weeks [after it] was a really tough low, one of the biggest lows of my career," he admitted. "I think that disappointment will last a lot longer than a month. Over the next two years we'll still have the same disappointment."