Els desperate to find smile and form

George (South Africa): Three-times major champion Ernie Els is keen find his sense of humour as well as his game at the Volvo Golf Champions that tees off at the Fancourt Links on Thursday.

South African Els has dropped to number 71 in the rankings after failing to win a tournament in 2011 and needs to return to the top 50 by the end of March in order to avoid failing to qualify for the Masters for the first time since 1993.

"A lot of people are reminding me that, at the moment, I`m not in the Masters," the 42-year-old told a news conference at Fancourt, an estate course in the Southern Cape, on Wednesday.

"I know where I stand in the rankings, I don`t need reminding. But I`ve got a couple of months to rectify it - you don`t want to be asking for an invitation to Augusta, so I`ll just have to qualify.

"But you lose your sense of humour when you`re not putting well and I`d like to get that back. If I can get the putter working, then you`ll see me smiling more.

"My work ethic and determination are more than ever. The last season was dismal and I really want to turn things around and win some tournaments," Els said.

Els will be one of eight South Africans in the 35-man field for the winners-only invitation event and he said the home golfers would have an advantage over the European contingent.

"Local knowledge will definitely come into play here, especially when the sea-breeze picks up, and it`s definitely an advantage for myself, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen because we`re here on vacation every year and we know the course," Els said.

"The family and I have been coming down here now for the last 22 years, so it`s home for us. I played all of December here, so I have a good feel for the course. Knowing the course is also a big advantage," Els said.

World number nine Charl Schwartzel is the highest-ranked player in the field and will also be eyeing the April 5-8 Masters, where he is the defending champion.

The wiry South African did not get the year off to a good start, missing the cut in last week`s Joburg Open, which he won in 2011.

"Last week I missed out, but I played decently and only missed four greens in 36 holes - I just couldn`t get the ball in the hole," Schwartzel said.

"My game feels even better now and hopefully some putts go in so I can get my confidence going as I build up to Augusta.

"The way I`m striking the ball and my physical shape just keeps improving. I`m not stationary, my game keeps going forward, but I just need to putt well to win. At Augusta, your success also has a lot to do with the greens," Schwartzel added.

Fellow major champions Oosthuizen, Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Goosen and Padraig Harrington will also be teeing off on the 6,652- metre, par-73 Fancourt Links.

Harrington qualified thanks to having won more than nine times on the European Tour and the three-times major champion will be concentrating on regaining his best form - having tumbled to 89th on the world rankings - in an event where there is no cut.

"If I play well from the word go, then I can compete, otherwise I have four days to work on my game and play myself into form. The South African lads have a big advantage and you can`t win every year, I just have to be patient," Harrington said.

Bureau Report