Updated: January 21, 2013, 6:26 PM ET

Rejuvenated Ernie Els focused for '13

Harig By Bob Harig

After a lengthy holiday break in which he spent time with family in his native South Africa, Ernie Els changed things up this year by adding two events in the Middle East to give himself an early three-event start to the season.

A tie for 18th at the Volvo Champions in South Africa followed by a tie for 39th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship had the reigning Open Championship winner fretting a bit about his form, and hoping to find it this week at the Qatar Masters in Doha.

[+] EnlargeErnie Els
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesAt the 2012 HSBC Champions event in China, Ernie Els finished tied for second. That is his only top-10 finish since winning the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in July.

"I'm playing much better than my score is indicating," Els said after the final round in Abu Dhabi. "I want to play better and it's not happening at the moment. But I'm looking forward to a good year. I want to get things moving in the right direction and it's not quite there.

"A little frustrating. It's been a busy week, too. There was stuff to do every night, so my patience is a little short."

Of course, Els was being paid for his appearance in Abu Dhabi, so making himself available is part of the deal. Clearly, however, he is committed to performing better, and wants to build on the surprise major championship victory last summer at the Open Championship, where he won his fourth major title.

That victory got him an exemption into the other majors for the next five years, meaning all the drama that surrounded his run-up to the 2012 Masters is gone. Els had fallen outside of the top 50 in the world and ended up missing out on a trip to Augusta National.

"I'm not [upset] about what happened last year. I'm not angry," he said about not receiving a special invitation to the Masters, where he had played 18 straight years, with six top-10 finishes. "Some people have asked if the win at the Open was sweeter now because  of what happened with the Masters; it really doesn't bear any thought.

"I've played so many Masters, and I should have won it. It didn't happen. I didn't qualify last year and I'm glad they didn't invite me because of the way it all went down. I'm excited like any other player to go the Masters, but like any other player I want to have my game there and I want to feel like I have a chance to compete and win. I just want to try and be ready to play. I just want to play good golf wherever I play."

To that end, Els has a lot of golf scheduled between now and then. After this week's tournament in Qatar (which starts on Wednesday), he'll make his PGA Tour season debut at the Northern Trust Open, followed by the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship.

After that, his schedule is uncertain, although he's likely to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational and possibly the Shell Houston Open. At the least, he'll play eight tournaments, perhaps nine, going into Augusta.

Since winning the Open at Royal Lytham, Els has not had much success. There was a tie for second at the HSBC Champions in China, but that is his only top-10 and one of just three top-20s in 13 tournaments.

"It was my putting again, but I've really worked on my routine a bit now," Els said. "It's not going in the hole and I'm a little frustrated with that. It's not quite where I want to be, but I think it's coming.

"I didn't play a lot of golf at the end of last year. I played the HSBC in Shanghai and one tournament in Malaysia. Other than that I didn't play, I was home, so I should be pretty fresh. I'm looking forward to getting on a bit of roll, playing some tournaments and getting some results."

Monty and the Champions Tour

One of the amazing perks of earning World Golf Hall of Fame induction is that it means fully exempt status on the Champions Tour, a point not lost on Colin Montgomerie.

The Scotsman turns 50 in June and seemed positively giddy about the prospects of playing senior golf when discussing it with a reporter in Abu Dhabi. The eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner sees competing with his peers a much better alternative than trying to remain competitive on the European Tour, where he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and is playing this week's event in Qatar.

"And yet the quality of play on the Champions Tour is quite good," Mongtomerie said. "I see the scores they shoot. Bernhard Langer works hard at his game, look at [Tom] Lehman and [Fred] Couples. It won't be easy at all but I'm looking forward to it."

Had the call from the Hall not come along at this time, Montgomerie would have had to rely on sponsor exemptions because he did not attend the Champions Tour qualifying tournament. Because he never played the PGA Tour as a member, he did not accumulate the career earnings that allow for many players to simply waltz from the regular tour onto the Champions Tour.

Montgomerie turns 50 on June 23, so he would be eligible for the Constellation Senior Players Championship which begins later that week, as well as the U.S. Senior Open in July.

But it is quite possible Monty won't make his debut until the Senior Open Championship. He hopes to qualify for the Open Championship at Muirfield and then play the following week in the senior version at Royal Birkdale.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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