OK, I realize that all attention will ' and probably should be ' on Tiger Woods next year. And if Phil Mickelson ever comes out of hiding, he, too, will get a lot of attention. Vijay Singh, whom most people wrote off after a disappointing second half of the season, will surprise a lot of folks ' and thats guaranteed.
But look at what Ernie did. Yes, yes, I know ' the tournament he won in South Africa, the dunhill, had only eight of the worlds top 200 entered. But you must remember that he was coming back after a five-month layoff. He had suffered a knee injury on a family sailing outing, and furthermore, his ninth-place finish in a 12-man Nedbank field during initial comeback two weeks ago impressed absolutely no one.
Then ' this.
I couldnt have asked for more, Els wrote on his website. I had my moments at the Nedbank where I was striking the ball OK, but I was just feeling my way back into things really.
This week at Leopard Creek was a different story, especially with my putting. I started to strike the ball with a bit more conviction and, more importantly, my feel for distance came back so I felt like I could start holing putts. Inside 10 feet I was much better and, as we all know, they are the scoring putts.
Els is still packing his knee in ice after every round. Doctors have told him that swelling will still occur, though they think there is no chance of him injuring it further if he continues to play. Ernie pondered whether he should play the dunhill, but because he has a home on the course, and because the doc said there wouldnt be any more structural damage, he decided to tee it up.
Els started the final round two back of overnight leader Ulrich Van den Berg. Van den Berg then birdied four of the first six holes, and when Els bogeyed No. 7, the difference was four.
But the situation changed quickly when Van den Berg bogeyed the ninth and then made a triple-bogey at No 11. And that was the opening Els needed.
'It's an amazing feeling coming out here and actually winning, said Ernie. When you're out of the game for so long with an injury, you worry about whether you'll ever be the same again.
'Two weeks ago I wasn't too sure whether I could break 80 in competition. And in my first tournament back (the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City), I didn't exactly set the course alight.
'But I took some positives out of Sun City, and my practice round here at Leopard Creek gave me an idea that my game was pretty much there.
The knee injury was to his anterior cruciate ligament, which enables the twisting movement that is vital to the golf swing. Surgery to repair it involved the insertion of 'small screws and anchors'. There was a time he doubted if he would return to play golf at the highest level.
As usually happens in an accident of this magnitude, however, there were a couple of positives along with the one major negative. For one, Els the world traveler was forced ' finally - to take a long, relaxing break.
'The last 20 weeks or so have been a period of reflection for me,' he told reporters in South Africa. 'I'm lucky enough to have become wealthy through playing this game, but if you don't have your health, you've really got nothing.'
A second positive was that now Els believes he is a better putter. He spent idle hours working on that phase of the game while waiting for the knee to heal. And he watched old films of his putting and decided he hunches over the ball too much.
'It looked to me that my putting posture wasn't quite right; almost that the putter was too short for me. Also, I seemed to be cutting across the ball ever-so-slightly. I wasn't releasing the putter freely through towards the hole like you should,' Els said.
'So to rectify those things, what I've done is extend the shaft of my putter to 36 inches, and that's helped me stand a little taller over the ball with my spine straighter. I've been developing a feeling of controlling the stroke with a turning-rocking motion of the shoulders - basically like a mini-golf swing. And already it feels a lot better, like I can release the putter through the ball and hit my putts with a lot more authority, which hopefully then leads to confidence.'
It may take six more months before the knee is completely healed, doctors say. But Ernie is in no hurry. There is much time, even though he is now 36, to build on the Els record before he hangs up his driver.
'I look at Vijay Singh and he's winning majors in his 40s,' Els said. 'So I figure I've still got 10 good years to achieve my goals.'
Email your thoughts to George White