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Ernie Els has one eye on World Cup as he prepares for U.S. Open

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

South Africa drew 1-1 against Mexico in their Group A opener and will take on Uruguay on Wednesday before facing former world champions France in their final group game.

"We always thought we were going to lose against Mexico, so that was a great draw," a smiling Els told reporters at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

"If they can get a draw with France or even get through with a win, we would have a chance of qualifying. And that would almost be like a miracle for us down there."

Els, an enthusiastic sports fan, watched the World Cup's opening ceremony on television with his father during a golfing excursion last week at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey.

"My hair was standing on end for about 20 minutes," the three-times major winner said. "It's just an amazing spectacle down there, the biggest sporting event in the world, and we're hosting it.

"The home support is unbelievable. At the '95 World Cup rugby, we didn't have much of a chance and the home support really pulled the Springboks (South Africa) through (to win). And I think our team has a great chance now."

FAST START

U.S. Open champion in 1994 and 1997, Els made a fast start to this season with two PGA Tour victories in three weeks but he has struggled for consistency over the last month.

"I've been a bit off," said the 40-year-old South African who has missed two cuts and tied for third at the Texas Open in his last three starts on the U.S. circuit.

"I've really worked hard on the aspects that haven't been on, and that's been my short game. And I started feeling it, feeling the ball off the putter a little bit. I'm hitting the ball quite nicely so I just need a bit of a boost this week."

Els has been paired with world number one Tiger Woods and third-ranked Briton Lee Westwood in a high-profile grouping for the first two rounds at Pebble Beach.

"We'll have a lot of people watching us and a lot of attention," Els said. "If we get a bit of momentum going in the group as a whole, it could really pull along the others.

"We'll be watching each other but you can only take care of your own game and hopefully we can have two good days and be in contention by Saturday."

(Editing by Miles Evans)