By the Blouin News Sports staff

Els returns to Muirfield to defend Open

by in Golf.

Ernie Els (L) will have to defend his Open Championship title from #1 Tiger Woods. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ernie Els (L) will have to defend his Open Championship title from #1 Tiger Woods. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

In July of 2012, Ernie Els ended a ten-year hiatus between Major titles when he surged through the back nine at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in Lancashire, England to win the Open Championship. This weekend, Els will do as he does every year before the Open Championship — play the Scottish Open. He has played the Scottish Open 18 times and has won it twice. Els said that he has “very fond memories of my two wins in the Scottish Open, and if I can win it a third time next week, it would be the perfect platform for my defense of The Open.”

On the year, Els has earned just $833,058, ranking him 80th, but did finish fourth in the U.S. Open Golf Championship in June. He followed the U.S. Open with a first place finish at the BMW International Open in Golfclub München Nord-Eichenreid in Germany. Before his elevated play in June, Els was having a rough start to 2013. A win at the Scottish Open would add some extra buzz to Els as he heads into the oldest major championship in golf. Els could become the third player in the past eight years to win consecutive Open Championships; Tiger Woods accomplished the feat in 2005 and 2006, and Pádraig Harrington of Ireland did so in 2007 and 2008.

The Open has increased its prize money by 5%, with the winner now taking home about $1.4 million — which makes all four major title tournaments equal in prize money. And heading into the Open, there are some big names looking to add to their 2013 earnings. Tiger Woods will look to win the Open for the fourth time, having placed third last year. He is the current money leader in 2013 as well as the top-ranked golfer in the world. He is the favorite heading in. Rory McIlroy began the year in the top spot but has dropped all the way to #38. He has looked awful all year and could salvage the season with a good showing at the British Open, but his chances seem slim: his best finish was third in 2010. Justin Rose of South Africa has had a great 2013, winning the U.S. Open in June and is currently ranked #6. But he hasn’t finished in the top ten at the British Open since a fourth-place finish in 1998.

Perhaps the most interesting player outside of Els to watch at the British Open will be Adam Scott. A year ago at the British Open, the Australian had a four-stroke lead with four holes to go — but four consecutive bogeys allowed Els to swoop in for victory. The 32-year-old, now ranked 10th in the world, has a major title under his belt since then — the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia earlier this year. He will likely come out with a chip on his shoulder this year at the Open.

The tournament begins on July 18 and goes through the 21st. Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major title since the U.S. Open in 2008 and will dominate headlines, but Els has the chance to repeat and win his 5th major career title. If Scott or Rose can bring home the Claret Jug, it’d mark the first time since 2008 that a golfer won two or more of the four major titles in one season. Regardless of which headlines intrigue you most, this year’s Open Championship is without a doubt one worth watching.