NEWPORT BEACH — World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els returned to Newport Beach Country Club this week as the longest-running defending champion in Hoag Classic history.

Yes, an asterisk is required.

Els won his first PGA Tour Champions title here in March 2020, but the Hoag Classic (for 23 years known as the Toshiba Classic) was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic.

“Yeah, it’s taken two years to come to defend,” Els said Wednesday, smiling. “There’s been a lot that’s gone on the last two years, and so it’s great now to finally be back at Newport (Beach) Country Club and see the fans again coming out this week and playing a beautiful golf course. Good to be back in California.”