Another major championship had somehow slipped away, and already he was thinking of what might have been.
Officially, Els lost the British Open in a four-hole playoff to Todd Hamilton. At least that's the way it will be recorded by the folks running the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
In his mind, though, it was lost an hour or so earlier on a putt that didn't even come close.
'I'm going to think about that putt for quite a while,' Els said.
It was a 12-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole that would have capped one of the wildest back-nine comebacks in major championship history. If Els had made it, he would have won his second Open title in three years.
Instead, Els did something he rarely does anywhere, much less on the final green of a major: He left the putt short.
'I had a chance on 18, but I just couldn't get it high enough,' Els said.
Els never seemed to recover from the miss, bogeying the third hole of the playoff and then missing a second 15-footer on the 18th hole that would have forced another playoff hole.
For the third major in a row, he walked off the course bitterly disappointed, head bowed and trying to corral his thoughts and emotions.
The Big Easy has feelings, too. He's also got a sports psychologist, who now has some major work of his own to do.
'I didn't want to let this one go,' Els said. 'Coming so close, obviously it's a disappointment. But to get in the playoff from where I was, you've got to take the positive out of it.'
Els has no other way to look at it. He came agonizingly close to winning the Masters, only to lose on a birdie putt by Phil Mickelson on the last hole. Then he began the final round of the U.S. Open just two shots out of the lead, only to shoot 80.
Zero-for-three in majors, he could just as easily be on his way to winning the Grand Slam.
'I think any of them is hard to take,' Els said. 'I was in a similar position in April and I played well that time. And I felt I played well this time. But I didn't quite play the playoff good enough.'
Els was seemingly out of the tournament after making a mess of the 10th hole. He took a double bogey after clunking a shot off a severe sidehill lie to drop out of a tie for the lead and fall two shots back. When he hit his drive way right into the gorse on No. 11, it seemed as if it was all over.
Els found the ball, but he still had problems. It was stuck waist-high in a gorse bush and he had to figure out what to do with it. He could have taken an unplayable lie and the penalty that goes with it, but he instead took a baseball swing and advanced the ball about 20 yards.
From there, he knocked it on the green, and made a 20-footer for par. Suddenly, he had a better feeling about things.
'I don't think I've ever seen that happen. I don't know if it's ever happened in a game of golf,' Els said. 'It hung on that gorse bush branch and it was kind of hanging there. Obviously it was a break, you know. And somehow I got it out of there.'
Els was still trailing by two shots, but he didn't give Hamilton a chance to pull away. He matched him with two birdies on the next five holes, then hit an iron to 10 feet on the treacherous par-3 17th and made the putt to pull within one.
While Hamilton slashed it around on 18 for a bogey, Els hit a drive down the middle and an iron 12 feet short of the cup. The Open was his to win.
The hushed spectators in the massive grandstands that line both sides of the 18th hole didn't know it, but Els didn't particularly like what he saw in front of him.
It didn't help that he had to wait while Hamilton took a drop, walked twice to and from the green and finally missed a putt before he could play.
'It was such a weird pin placement where if you were short of the hole, you had such a difficult putt,' he said. 'If I knew that I probably would have hit it past.'
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