GEORGE, South Africa (AP)—Ernie Els didn’t just lose his touch with the putterin a disappointing 2011 season, he also lost his smile.
The South African’s U.S. Open titles from 1994 and 1997 and his 2002 BritishOpen triumph seemed a particularly long time ago last year as he struggled withhis form on the greens.
“I’ve kind of lost my sense of humor, you know. When you don’t putt wellyour sense of humor doesn’t work very well,” Els said. “I’d like to get mysense of humor back. My work ethic and determination, especially this year, isbetter than ever because I had such a dismal season last year.
“I would like to really turn things around this year and see if I can winsome tournaments again.”
Els’ first chance starts Thursday at the Volvo Golf Champions on The Linkscourse. He will be among an exclusive field of 35 champions with 392 victoriesbetween them, including 14 majors.
Els has won 68 professional career titles—55 on the PGA and European tours— but at No. 71 he is outside the top 50 in the world rankings and thereforedoesn’t qualify automatically for the Masters in April.
“I know where I stand and I know what I need to do,” he said. “I have acouple of months to rectify that. I don’t want to be asking for an invitethere.”
Ranked 89th and also a three-time major winner, Padraig Harrington findshimself in a similar position.
“I certainly had a peak year in 2007 and another peak in 2008. It’simpossible to always have peak years,” the Irishman said of the span thatbrought his two British Open titles and a PGA Championship victory.
“It doesn’t worry me in the greater scheme of things, because I know youcan’t win them every year. You have to sit there and be patient and wait foryour turn—and like 2007 and 2008, they all come at once.”
The field also includes reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel , currentBritish Open champion Darren Clarke and 2012 European Ryder Cup captain JoseMaria Olazabal .