South African Els tied for fourth in last year's Frys.com Open, a performance that gave him hope of an upturn in his playing fortunes after a winless campaign on the 2011 PGA Tour characterised by erratic putting.
"(That) was one of my better performances of 2011," Els said on his official website while preparing for Thursday's opening round. "I'd had a pretty miserable season up to that point, but I came here and shot rounds of 69, 66, 67, 68.
"It was a strong week and I remember I actually felt a little disappointed that I hadn't won, so that was a big turnaround mentally. It was the start of a shift in momentum and suddenly I could see light at the end of the tunnel."
Els went on to win his fourth major title at the British Open in July, and is delighted to be back at the picturesque CordeValle layout which is framed by the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"I played here last year and it was the first time I'd got a look at this Robert Trent Junior design," said the smooth-swinging South African. "Straight away I liked what I saw. It's in a beautiful setting and the course was in great condition."
Apart from Els, other big names teeing it up this week include former world number one Vijay Singh, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and former major winners Trevor Immelman, John Daly and Angel Cabrera.
Also competing in the second of four events in the PGA Tour's Fall Series is Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, who could secure his playing privileges on the U.S. circuit for next year with a good performance this week.
"When you get a chance to play this tour with all these players, the courses you play on and on such a big stage, it would be stupid not to consider it," the long-hitting Belgian Ryder Cup player told reporters at CordeValle.
"I've played in Europe for a lot of years. It's an unbelievable tour to play on and get your grades up, but once you get a taste of what the possibilities here are, they get you pretty excited."
Colsaerts, the world number 35 who is playing on a sponsor's exemption this week, said he would like to emulate fellow European players such as Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Justin Rose by competing regularly on both sides of the Atlantic.
"Having these experienced guys around is quite a big help for somebody like me who's going to discover all the new things and try to make both worlds work," said Colsaerts, nicknamed the 'Belgian Bomber' because of his prodigious length off the tee.
"There are always going to be the events that you've always liked and played good back at home. It's going to be a bit difficult to make the two (tours) work, but it's going to be a lot easier to get my number up in Europe."
Colsaerts has $652,886 in PGA Tour earnings this season and needs to match the earnings of the player ranked 125th in the final money list to avoid going to qualifying school. With three events to go, he effectively occupies 120th spot.
Also competing at CordeValle is Bryce Molder, who won last year's the Frys.com Open in a playoff with fellow American Briny Baird.