Els' long game stayed south, too, - he hit just four of 14 fairways - and that was exacerbated when his putts lipped out on 10 and 11 and grazed the cup on 13 and 14, all from 15 to 18 feet.
Then he bogeyed 15 and 18, two par 4s that measure 500 or more yards.
'I just couldn't get it quite on target today. I just kind of struggled a little bit off the tee and it may end us costing me,' Els said. 'I've obviously got to play better. I kind of got it going for a while and I missed some putts. I've got to play as good as I can. There's still a lot of golf left.'
And a lot of fairways.
Nobody remaining in the field has hit fewer fairways than Els, who is averaging 5.33 a round - just 38 percent.
Yet Els insists he can still keep this from being another melancholy major for him.
'I've got a chance, you know. I'm four behind,' he said. 'I know I can hit it a lot better than that, and now I've got to make birdies. So if it happens tomorrow, I've just got to hang in there and try to carve out some kind of a round. I've got to shoot in the 60s tomorrow.'
He shot an opening-round 66, when he hit seven fairways, but has followed with 70-72.
The field made its move on the front nine Saturday, and Els said it's important for him to get off to a fast start again Sunday to have any hope of winning.
'You need a good start, but let's see how the wind blows. It might be blowing into us tomorrow, going out. And that's going to mean they might play a little bit tougher this time,' he said. 'You've got to take your chances where they are. If I can get it in play a little better, I feel I can get a score going. ...
'You obviously need a solid start to contend.'
He also needs to put an end to his faltering finishes.
Several golfers whose games fit the links-style Straits Course said they hoped for a little more wind Sunday. Els wasn't sure what to wish for.
'It will really make it a very good challenge if the wind blows,' he said. 'Can you imagine where I'm going to hit it when the wind blows?'
Els has been in contention at all the majors. He was on the putting green, desperately hoping for a playoff when Phil Mickelson strolled up the 18th fairway at Augusta and stepped over an 18-foot putt, rolled it into the side of the cup and removed his tag as the best player never to win a major.
Els missed a 12-footer for birdie on 18 for the win at the British Open and lost to Todd Hamilton in a four-hole playoff.
At Shinnecock Hills, Els played in the final group with Retief Goosen but made double bogey on the first hole and slid all the way to an 80 as Goosen captured his second U.S. Open in four years.
The close calls aren't haunting Els now. Rather, they'll work to his benefit, he insisted.
'I've got a lot of experience going into the final day close to the lead, so I've got to go out there tomorrow and play a good round of golf. I've got to play the way I played at Augusta or at the Open on the final day and I might have a chance,' he said.
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