OPEN champion Ernie Els is a class act and he provided a timely reminder, with the tournament just three weeks away, by claiming his first title of the year at the BMW International Open in Munich on Sunday.
His wire-to-wire victory, which included an opening round of 63, lifted him from 20th to 14th in the world rankings and continued his upturn in form since the Masters heralded Majors season.
Els was tied 13th at Augusta and his results since have included a runner-up spot, a tie for sixth at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last month and a share of fourth place at the US Open.
It means he will head to Muirfield, where he won the Open in 2002, for the year’s third Major next month high on confidence, certainly compared with Europe’s highest-ranked player Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman will be hoping to prove that form is only temporary when he tees off at the Irish Open at Carton House, County Kildare, on Thursday – still seeking his first win of 2013.
McIlroy will face no shortage of challengers, including three team-mates from last year’s spectacular Ryder Cup triumph, in Graeme McDowell, Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari, as well as captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Former winners Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn, who pushed Els close in Germany at the weekend, are also among a strong field, as is defending champion Jamie Donaldson and 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke.
Competition should also be fierce this week at the AT&T National at Congressional on the PGA Tour, where recently crowned US Open champion Justin Rose tops the bill.
The Englishman put in another strong challenge last week in America at the Travelers Championship, just days after his landmark success at Merion, but ran out of steam to finish six shots behind first-time winner Ken Duke.
This time Rose will be up against fellow 2013 Major winner Adam Scott, who won this title in 2010, joint US Open runner-up Jason Day, and Brandt Snedeker, although world No1 Tiger Woods is absent through injury.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @torrancesam