Oh no, Ernie, you did it again. The Sunday before last, I watched him play those final three holes at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, and let’s just say, it went from joyful to hopeful to heartbreaking real fast.
The South African golfer headed into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a shot at redemption and securing an invitation to next week’s Masters. He entered the day tied for third and the OWGR number-crunchers estimated a solo second would do the trick and bump Els from No. 62 to the top 50 in the world rankings, which would earn him a spot in the field.
I learned my lesson a week earlier and decided to keep my distance at Bay Hill (unless he was six-under or something going into the last few). Well, that’s not completely true — I saw the two-time major champ, who reminds me of a hybrid between the Big Friendly Giant and Shrek (just with more raw emotion), plod down the ninth hole before I scurried away to catch Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell.
“I wasn’t good on the greens and that’s the disappointing thing,” said Els, after shooting a disappointing three-over 75 to finish tied for fourth. “I hit the ball well, probably could have still shot par or under-par if I putted anything like I did the first couple days.”
He missed a three-footer for par on the first hole. Then he three-putted on Nos. 6 and 11 for bogey. He missed a 16-footer for birdie on 18, which we thought at the time would have made a difference, but turns out a tie for third wouldn’t have been enough to crack the top 50.
“I didn’t have my putting touch today, that was the difference,” said Els, who had been pleased with his game all week. “I was a little tentative again and the wind didn’t help too much on the greens either. I’m pleased with my ballstriking, but again on the greens, I was awful.”
Ernie, who finished runner-up at Augusta National in 2000 and 2004, admitted on Sunday at the Transitions Championship that the Masters was on his mind, but he was more concerned with playing well and trying to close out the win. This week he said he had made strides with his ballstriking and his game was finally where it needs to be in order to compete at Augusta.
“Obviously, you go into a week, a 4th place, you’d probably take it,” he said. “But it was a bit of bittersweet there again. I had a lot of chances today, and you know, kind of blew it a little bit.”
It’s been agonizing to watch Ernie play his heart out and then fall short on Sunday with the hopes of clinching a berth in what would be his 19th consecutive Masters. I’ve been stewing all day over the idea he won’t be at Augusta. As I said in this week’s PGA Tour Confidential, I’m a sucker for sentiment. Look, I don’t think majors should extend players what amounts to a sponsor’s exemption.
Ernie isn’t asking for any special favors, either. He’s not trying to garner sympathy or grovel to the powers-that-be. He knows he’s had plenty of chances to play his way in the field and he has no one to blame but himself for being in the must-win scenario he’s in now at this week’s Shell Houston Open. One last shot.
Better yet, the Green Coats could just save everyone the trouble of stressing over the pressure-packed situation by announcing on Tuesday that Augusta National Golf Club is extending a special invite to Ernie Els. If that were to happen, who knows, he’d probably go on to
win finish second in Houston a la Ryo Ishikawa in Puerto Rico.
For an institution so deeply rooted in tradition, there’s two ways to see it: 1) The case of Greg Norman in 2002 that arguably applies to Els in some respects, like the impact he’s had on the game and those he’s inspired; 2) He didn’t have enough epic chokes to benefit ANGC’s storied history, so tough luck.
Well, as Ernie says, the green coats don’t owe him anything if he hasn’t earned it, but I recommend reading Scott Michaux’s excellent column.
(AP Photo/John Raoux)