Ernie Els arrives safe and sound for Macau Open
The Big Easy will take his place in the open after Typhoon Wipha disrupts his travel plans and almost blows him off course
South African Ernie Els' plans to celebrate his birthday with an impressive showing in the opening round of the Venetian Macau Open on Thursday were almost blown off course by Typhoon Wipha.
The four-time major champion headlines a strong field at the US$800,000 Asian Tour event which includes title holder Gaganjeet Bhullar of India, China's Liang Wenchong and two-time Macau Open champion Zhang Lianwei, six former Order of Merit champions including Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee and no fewer than 40 Tour champions.
Els arrived at the Macau Golf and Country Club on Wednesday afternoon after his flight from the United States to Japan took a detour and the subsequent leg to Macau was delayed due to the typhoon in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Despite the jetlag, the South African, who turns 44 on Thursday, is feeling upbeat.
"I was going to come in early. I flew privately, but there was a typhoon in Japan and we couldn't land in Tokyo and we had to land in Sapporo, and we got delayed as no flights could leave the area," said Els, who left the US late on Monday night and took 17 hours to arrive in Macau.
"It's nice to be here. I've never been to Macau. I've heard some great things."
Els, who accepted an invitation to become an Asian Tour honorary member and international ambassador in July, will spend the next three weeks in Asia where he hopes to end his 2013 campaign on a high note.
Defending champion Bhullar will aim to reignite his campaign for the Asian Tour Order of Merit title at his "lucky" course.
"I have been playing good this season, but I'm still waiting to win a tournament and I hope this will be the one," said Bhullar who last year won the tournament in outstanding style, recording a wire-to-wire victory.
"I like this course. I regard it as my lucky one and I hope I can break my duck this season and win here on Sunday. But it isn't going to be easy for it is a stronger field than last year.
"A victory here will be a perfect way to also start my bid to win the Order of Merit. The tail end of the season is crucial with so many big-money events and doing well is going to be crucial."
Bhullar, who carded a two-stroke victory last year, is lying in third place in the Asian Tour money-list race. Although he has still not won a tournament in 2013, he has amassed US$279,193 and is just over US$400,000 behind leader Kiradech Aphibarnrat and second-placed Australian Scott Hend, who is about US$120,000 in front.
"It might seem a big gap, but if I can win a couple of events over the next couple of months, this will close down," added the 25-year-old Bhullar.
The presence of such a strong field has set Bhullar's blood flowing. He said: "With so many big names, this is the perfect tournament to showcase your game. A win this weekend will be good for your name. Just imagine defeating Ernie Els who has been a long-time idol of mine. I hope I will be playing alongside him in the last flight this weekend."
But while the marquee names will draw attention, Hend is likely to be among those who can pose a real threat. The Australian is the in-form player and will be looking to add a third title to his stellar season, which includes wins in the Chiangmai Golf Classic and the Mercuries Taiwan Masters.
"All the players love coming to Macau and I hope it is another memorable visit for me," Bhullar said.