Ernie Els takes aim at first Masters title
Without a PGA Tour win in almost three years, these have been hard times for the "Big Easy".
But with a new three-year plan in place to return him the top of the golf rankings, Ernie Els is taking aim at world number one Tiger Woods and a first U.S. Masters title this week.
Not long ago, the smooth swinging South African drove up Magnolia Lane tipped as one of the few men with a legitimate chance of battling Woods for the green jacket.
This year, however, Els is not even seen as the top South African threat with younger countryman Trevor Immelman, runner-up to Phil Mickelson last year, leading the charge.
"I don't particularly care if I was the favourite this week or nobody talks about me," Els told reporters.
"I need to do the job, I need to play golf and I need to play as good as I can."
While Els's number five world ranking, 15 PGA Tour titles and a pair of runner-up finishes at Augusta National mark him out as a contender, his recent performances offer little hint that tailors will be sizing up a green jacket for the big South African come Sunday.
Els has not celebrated victory in the U.S since winning three times in 2004 and would have finished last season without a title for the first time since 1991 if he had not returned home to capture the South African Open in November.
Even Els's love affair with the Masters has appeared strained in recent years.
After finishing no worse than sixth five successive years from 2000, the three-times major winner slumped to a 47th place in 2005 and 27th last year.
"I've had some good tournaments here, some close finishes, but I'd love to get my arms in the green jacket," admitted Els. "I've had 13 chances at it. I've had a fair share of my chances and I haven't quite done it.
"Obviously, we're all here to win and I'd love to do it. If I don't do it, it definitely would be a bit of a downer."
With the spotlight tightly focused on Tiger Woods's bid for a fifth Masters, Els has quietly gone about the business of preparing for the year's opening major.
Playing a practice round on Tuesday with three-times Masters champion Gary Player, Els's form received the stamp of approval from the South African golf great.
"He (Player) just walked up to me on 17 today and was like, 'You know this is the best I've ever seen you play'," said Els, who will be bidding to add a Masters title to his two U.S. and British Open victories.
"'This should be your best chance ever'."
April 4, 2007