ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Nothing like a trip to the Old Course to get Ernie Els out of his U.S. Open funk.
Els has been looking forward to coming to St. Andrews since he stormed out of Pebble Beach, enraged he’d let a chance at a third U.S. Open title slip away. Though he missed the cut at the next two events he played, Els arrived at the British Open filled with confidence and enthusiasm.
“I’m obviously not the big story here this week, but I feel I’m playing OK,” he said Tuesday. “I feel I’ve got a good chance this week. I’ve got a lot of experience, and I think it’ll help me.”
At 40, Els is having his best season in years – and one of the best of his career. He ended a two-year drought at the World Golf Championship at Doral, then became the tour’s first double winner of the year two weeks later with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was the first time the South African had won back-to-back tournaments in seven years.
He has six top-10 finishes in 13 starts on the PGA Tour. He’s also second on the European Tour’s money list, and is sixth in the world golf rankings.
And if not for a bad three-hole swing at Pebble Beach, he might have a fourth major title.
Els birdied three of his first six holes in the final round of the U.S. Open to move into a tie for the lead. But after a bogey on the ninth hole, he hit his drive into the long grass on the cliffside of the 10th. While folks on the beach watched from below, Els finally found his ball, only to hit his third shot into the long grass around the green.
His double bogey dropped him back to even par, and he followed with another bogey on No. 11.
“I have so much experience that I know what not to do, and to hit that shot I did on 10 near the ocean there and making double there, I just couldn’t forgive myself,” said Els, who finished third, two strokes behind Graeme McDowell. “I just felt very disappointed there because I had the perfect start and I just had to keep it alive and I probably would have been, at worst, in a playoff. But I just self-destructed a little bit.”
Hard to come by at any age, major titles are a rarity for players over 40. But Els said he wasn’t bothered so much by the ticking clock as he was letting an opportunity get away from him.
“I was so in contention there, and you’d like to finish something off,” he said. “I haven’t won (a major) in eight years, and I’ve been so close so many times. You feel you just want to win one. I don’t feel like I’m running out of time yet. I think I’ve still got at least five, six years. That’s quite a few majors, another 24 or so.”
And the next one starts Thursday.
Els has loved St. Andrews since he first played it at 17. This is his fourth British Open on the Old Course, where experience can be as big a factor as talent.
“I think I still have a decent chance of playing well here this week and maybe having a chance,” Els said. “If I can get into position like I was at the U.S. Open Championship, I’d like to finish it off.”