Els hit his tee shot on the 11th hole at the Masters on Saturday into an area where workers stacked some limbs that had been torn off trees during a storm.
Facing an unplayable lie, Els asked the rules official on the hole if he could move the ball by invoking the ground-under-repair rule.
That official rejected his request, but called over chief official Will Nicholson, who allowed Els a free drop. Els parlayed that good break into a bogey, en route to a round of 1-under-par 71 that left him at 3 under, three strokes out of the lead.
'I just felt they could have moved the stuff offsite, off the golf course,' Els said. 'In South Africa, we call that greenskeepers rubble. I felt pretty strongly about that.'
Els' question prompted about a 15-minute delay. Phil Mickelson, who was playing behind him, whiled the time away on the tee box, sitting on a towel and stretching to keep his back loose.
'Ten, 11, 12 are not really the holes you want to be waiting on, but it was all right,' said Mickelson, the co-leader with Chris DiMarco after three rounds.
There might not be a setup in the world that rewards course knowledge more than Augusta National. Nobody knows it better this week than Bernhard Langer.
Langer, the champion here in 1985 and '93, shot 69 in the third round to move into a tie for fourth, only three strokes behind leaders Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
Langer hasn't finished in the top 10 here since his 1993 victory. That, plus the fact he's 46 - the same age that Jack Nicklaus became the oldest Masters winner in 1986 - might make Langer's the most surprising name near the top of the leaderboard.
'It's probably the knowledge of having played somewhere near 150, 200 rounds on this golf course,' Langer said, when asked to explain his success. 'That can be a good thing. I thought it was a boost today.'
While Phil Mickelson, Chris DiMarco and the rest go for the green jacket, Brandt Snedeker and Casey Wittenberg will be playing for a prize of their own.
Snedeker leads Wittenberg by four strokes in the race for low amateur. The winner gets a sterling silver cup.
Snedeker, the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, and Wittenberg, the runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, came into the day tied at 4 over par. With the help of an eagle on No. 10 - an iron shot he holed out from the fairway - Wittenberg shot 71 in the third round, while Snedeker shot 75.
'It was unbelievable that it was on that hole, and in this tournament,' Wittenberg said.
Both players know they have a big day coming up. Snedeker also announced Sunday this will be his last tournament as an amateur. He said he'll turn pro Monday, and already has invitations to play in the Byron Nelson Classic and the Memorial, both in May.
It was easy to spot the Alex Cejka fans.
Eleven of Cejka's family and close friends sported Day-Glo yellow hats Saturday with 'Team Cejka' on the front in green script lettering and 'Check out Cejka' on the back.
'Yesterday at dinner I realized it would be funny, a nice surprise. It would be easy for Alex to see us in the crowd,' said Rudy Masopust, a close friend of Cejka's and the one who came up with the idea.
That hats were whipped up at the last minute by a local company.
Unfortunately for Cejka, the hats didn't help his game. He shot 78 to finish 2 over and fall from a tie for second to eight strokes behind.
With a storm expected to roll in late Sunday, Masters officials moved all tee times up by about an hour. Jeff Sluman and Chris Riley will begin play at 10:30 a.m., and the leaders tee off at 2 p.m. ... Vijay Singh opened with a birdie and an eagle, but didn't quite make the charge he needed, shooting 69 to finish 1 over. ... At one point, on the seventh hole, Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer were an entire hole behind the group in front of them. They made up ground quickly and were back in position by the turn.
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