Els Searching for Major Turnaround


Ernie Els sat before the media in January and was posed the same question most every big name player receives at the season-opening Mercedes Championships:
Whats the minimum you could do this year to make it a successful year in your own mind?
Ernie Els
Ernie Els hopes to put behind him his recent major disappointments at St. Andrews.
Part of Els response: I would love to at least win a major this year. It sounds very cocky but that's always my mindset.
Els is 0-for-2 in that department thus far in 2005. Technically, that puts him in a similar position to that of a year ago as he prepares for the Open Championship. But unlike last year, when he had a chance to win each of the first two majors ' and all four, for that matter, he has yet to contend in any this year.
Els tied for 47th at Augusta and then tied for 15th at Pinehurst; finishing 22 and nine strokes, respectively, behind the winners. He has yet to break par in any of his eight major rounds in 05.
Hes winless in the majors this season and hes winless on the PGA Tour. Needless to say, Els is not overly pleased with his results, despite the fact that he has three wins on the European Tour.
Theres still time, he said about turning his season into what he deems a successful campaign.
Time, however, is slipping. And there is more sand in the bottom of the hourglass than in the top.
For a man of Els professional stature, success is measured in victories ' particularly in the majors. Els has three major triumphs, but none since the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield.
Last year was particularly cruel, as he finished runner-up to Mickelson by a stroke at the Masters; shot 80 from the final group, in the final round of the U.S. Open to tie for ninth; lost to Todd Hamilton in a playoff at the Open Championship; and bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss out on a playoff at the PGA Championship.
As much as those still hurt and as frustrated as he might be, Els is well aware that one good week, four great rounds can alter his disposition.
And with his track record in the Open, combined with his affection for the Old Course at St. Andrews, Els is among the top contenders to again claim the claret jug.
St. Andrews is almost like a home course for me. I've played it every year since 1992. So I know it as good as anybody, said Els.
But he is not the favorite.
Five for the Title:
Tiger Woods
Each of the last two Open Championships has produced a shocking winner. And eight of the last 10 Open winners have been American. So you may want to pick someone like Ted Purdy as your favorite. But well stick with Tiger. While Americans have had recent success at St. Andrews, having won four of the last six Opens staged there, the dark horse has rarely finished first. Nine of the last 11 winners at St. Andrews already had a major victory to their credit. The venerable venue has hosted 26 Opens and has produced champions like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo. And, of course, that Woods fellow.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is looking to complete the career Grand Slam for the second time.
Tiger won the most recent Old Course Open in 2000, establishing a major record winning score of 19 under. He played in the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland last Monday and Tuesday, and has been spending a little time fishing with pals on that side of the Atlantic and a lot of time gearing up his game. Having won the Masters and finished runner-up at the U.S. Open, he cant win the single season Grand Slam. But a win this week and he would join Nicklaus as the only men to win every major at least twice.
Ernie Els
Not since Greg Norman has there been a player more star-crossed in the majors than Els. He desperately wants to win the career Grand Slam, but he certainly wouldnt mind adding a second British Open title to go along with his two U.S. Open trophies. Els is a little weary at the moment, due to his extensive travels, which include an unexpected return to South Africa two weeks ago for the death of his grandfather. But, despite an 11th-place showing at the Barclays Scottish Open, he enters this championship optimistic. In addition to his infatuation for St. Andrews, he is also quite fond of his new Titleist driver, which he put in play last week.
Padraig Harrington
*Editor's note: Harrington pulled out on Tuesday due to the death of his father.
Harrington may well be playing the best golf of anyone leading into the seasons third major. Three weeks ago, he drained a 65-foot eagle putt to win the Barclays Classic, his second PGA Tour title of the year. He then won, by six strokes, last weeks J.P. McManus Pro-Am, a two-day event that featured the likes of Woods, Els, U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, Davis Love III, and just about every notable European player. He has a pair of top-5 finishes in the Open Championship, and tied for 20th in 2000.
Vijay Singh
Singh can claim the third leg of the career Grand Slam with a win this week. He has three PGA Tour victories this season, but none in his last six starts. That might not seem like a long stretch, but Singh has come to spoil us over the last three years. Singh has had moderate success in this event. He has missed only two cuts in 16 career starts, but also has only two top-10s. One of those top-10s, however, came here in 1995. He tied for second in 2003, behind champion Ben Curtis.
Phil Mickelson
There was a time ' not too long ago ' that Mickelson would never have been considered among the favorites to win this particular major. But times have changed. And so, too, has Mickelsons major preparation. After failing to crack the top-10 in his first 11 Open appearances, he finished solo third a year ago at Royal Troon. His previous best finish was a tie for 11th, which happened to come at St. Andrews in 2000. He continued his major routine, playing the Old Course last Monday and Tuesday prior to competing in the Scottish Open.
Playing Out the Front Nine
Four more to keep an eye on
*Michael Campbell, who will be playing his first official event since winning the U.S. Open. Campbell tied Els and Woods for sixth place at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am. He first made a name for himself at this event and at this venue in 95, when he held the 54-hole lead, but then shot 76 on Sunday to miss out on the John Daly-Costantino Rocca playoff by a stroke.
*Retief Goosen, who is looking to bounce back from a woeful closing performance at Pinehurst. In search of his second straight U.S. Open title, Goosen shot 81 in the final round to blow a three-shot lead and finish tied for 11th. He has three consecutive top-10 finishes in this event.
*Davis Love III, who has said the Open Championship is the one major that he has always wanted to win. Love hasnt won an event since 2003, but he seems to be rounding into form. He played better than anyone at Pinehurst over the last three rounds. He just needs to find a way to get off to a good start at St. Andrews. He has a pair of top-5s in his last two Open starts.
*Jack Nicklaus, who will be making his final appearance in this championship. Nicklaus has competed in 37 Opens. He won three times, including twice at St. Andrews (1970, 78). Most amazingly, he never finished worse than tied for sixth from 1966-80.
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