Originally created 12/02/99

Els faces challenge of the million dollar kind



Ernie Els knows winning the Million Dollar Challenge in Sun City, South Africa, is far more difficult than it looks.

"It should be easy," the South African star said Wednesday. "There are only 11 other guys to beat."

This will be his eighth consecutive appearance in the tournament, a 12-man event that starts Thursday.

Seven of the world's top 20 players will be playing. And this time the field is perhaps not as strong as previously. Certainly not as strong as in 1998 when Nick Price fought off Tiger Woods in a playoff.

The good news for Els is that because of little rain the normally devilish rough off the lush fairways of the Gary Player Country Club is not as punishing as usual. So his long game will be rewarded.

But blocking his way is Price, who is trying to win this tournament three times in a row. The Zimbabwean has earned the most in this 18-year-old event with $3.84 million. He has the lowest average at 68.9 for 30 rounds. He had 24 birdies last year, one more than Woods.

And there is the winner of the European Order of Merit for the last seven years, Colin Montgomerie. The Scot won the tournament in 1996, beating Els on the third hole of the playoff.

Spain's Sergio Garcia is certain to have a following. While the course would normally punish his long and somewhat erratic game, the fairways are firmer than usual and the rough sparser.

There's also England's Lee Westwood, who last year led by two strokes going into the final round. Scotland's Paul Lawrie wants to cement his reputation after winning the British Open. John Huston would love a win after a season of second places took him to 18th in the world. And Jim Furyk wants to stop the smirks about his swing.

The other three players are Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke British Open champion Paul Lawrie, John Huston and Jim Furyk.