Ernie Els hoping to find form at Congressional
Ernie Els has endured a frustrating 2011 campaign but, just as he did 14 years ago, is looking to regain form on the welcome turf of Congressional Country Club at this week’s U.S. Open.
In 1997, South African Els arrived at Congressional after missing the cut in his previous tournament before ending that week on an unexpected high with a second U.S. Open title to his name.
This season, he has struggled on the U.S. PGA Tour without a single top-10 in 11 starts and once again he is hoping to reignite his game on the tree-lined layout on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.
“It’s a long time ago,” Els told reporters on Tuesday as he reflected on his one-stroke victory over Britain’s Colin Montgomerie at Congressional in 1997.
“I came here last week and played a couple of rounds in the heat. It was about 102 (degrees) but just playing the course … brings back great memories.
“I got myself familiar with the course again and got obviously great vibes. I’ve got a nice draw so I’m looking forward to a good week.”
Els, a three-times major winner who is popularly known as the ‘Big Easy’ because of his smooth swing and generally laidback demeanour, has vivid memories of how his U.S. Open week steadily improved in 1997.
“I didn’t come in here with a lot of form … so I was a little bit on shaky ground,” the 41-year-old South African said. “But the weekend before the U.S. Open started, I did a lot of work here at the course.
“I just loved what I saw and through the practice days, I really found my game, I found my swing and found my putting stroke.
“From having no confidence that week going into Thursday, I had a little bit of hope. I didn’t screw up too bad here in the first round and then it started happening for me.”
Els’ victory at Congressional paved the way for a year in which he triumphed twice on the PGA Tour and won four other titles worldwide.
“I went on the next week to Westchester, which is one of my favourite places … and I think I won that tournament by eight shots,” he said, referring to the Buick Classic.
“It was a big turnaround in my year, and it just shows you what a major championship can do.
“My sense of urgency is still very much there. I’m putting a lot of work into my game and I need to basically find a way of letting it happen. I am waiting for that week for it to happen, so maybe this week.”
A year ago, Els came close to winning a third U.S. Open title after tying for the lead early in the final round at Pebble Beach before slipping back into third place, two strokes behind winner Graeme McDowell of Britain.
“When I look back at Pebble Beach, I played such wonderful golf from tee to green,” Els said. “I really found my swing that week, and I wasn’t even that bad on the greens.
“It was just that back nine (in the final round). I just kept missing (putts) inside eight feet almost on every hole. I was really, really very disappointed after that. I was just as flat as I’ve ever been in my life.
“You’ve got to give credit to Graeme McDowell, the way he played but, from my point of view, I felt like I let one slip away there.”
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