The Big Uneasy

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2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Its all starting to speed up now for Ernie Els. The Big Easy will turn the big 38 in October. And the syncopated cacophony in his ear is the ticking sound of his biological/competitive clock.
 
Youve got to learn from those mistakes, Els said Wednesday on the eve of THE PLAYERS Championship at the feared Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. But they dont really leave you.
 
There will always be a big kid element to Els. And thats a good thing. But the closer a man gets to 40, the quicker things like missed opportunities start flying by. After 40, sports careers, even in golf, begin moving in fast forward.
 
The mistakes Els was talking about are missed opportunities in majors. He was tantalizingly close at the 1995 PGA Championship and a couple of others. I had many chances in the 90s, he said.
 
And then there was the 2004 Masters snatched from his potential grasp when Phil Mickelson holed a walk-off birdie on the 72nd hole to shut Els out of a playoff. I think 2004 (the Masters), up to now, is still the most disappointing of all the disappointments so to speak, he said.
 
Els currently ranks No. 5 in the world and he is, well, uneasy about that. I think physically Im ready again, he said. Im fine. My knee is fine. My back.everything is pretty good. Ive got new enthusiasm. His T-8 here last year was his best PLAYERS' finish in 10 years.
 
Its just that the three major championships he has won'1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional and 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield'arent as many as he thought hed have by now.
 
For that matter, Els hasnt won on the PGA TOUR in the U.S. since the 2004 Memorial, three full years ago. And with next months U.S. Open back at Oakmont, Els drought is going to come into focus and under more scrutiny.
 
More than anyone else, you can make the case that Els and Mickelson, 37 in June, have paid the stiffest prices for living in the time of Tiger Woods. You know we all thought he (Woods) set the bar a little higher back in 2000, Els said. We never thought he was going to do it like that again.
 
But, Els added, you know talent is never going to go away.
 
Woods talent has returned with a vengeance. He and instructor Hank Haney have synched to the tune of nine victories in Tigers last 12 PGA TOUR events.
 
Any time you beat him (Woods), said current Masters champion Zach Johnson Wednesday, regardless of the situation, regardless if its a TOUR event or a major, it doesnt matter. Its just a good feeling.
 
And its a feeling Els craves more than anyone else right now, and that includes Mickelson. If you can win consistently with him (Woods) around, youre really performing well, Els said.
 
Its just that Els knows he doesnt have as much time left to do what he always thought he would as a boy growing up in South Africa. I always felt quite confident that I eventually would win majors, he said. I always had dreams of winning quite a few.
 
Els almost returned to the winners circle at Hilton Head earlier this year. He opened with a pair of 65s but followed with 71-70 which allowed Boo Weekleys two late chip-ins to stun everybody (including Boo) and capture the Verizon Heritage.
 
So the victory watch continues for Els. And it eats at him.
 
Its amazing, he said, how time flies out here.
 
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