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Els receives special U.S. Open invite; 9,000-plus vie for Pebble Beach berth

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For the second straight year, Ernie Els will receive a special exemption into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Els was among the initial 50 exempt players on a list that also included two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and recent Masters champion Tiger Woods.

The 49-year-old South African has two U.S. Open titles to his credit, having won in1994 at Oakmont and in 1997 at Congressional. He is one of 19 players who have won multiple U.S. Opens. In 26 career starts in the championship, Els has posted 10 top-10s. His first start came in 1993, a year after the 1992 edition at Pebble. He did tie for second at Pebble in 2000 and placed third in 2010.

The number of fully exempt players will increase. There are two top-60 cut-offs for the Official World Golf Ranking, on May 20 and June 10. Plus, the PGA Championship winner and any multiple PGA Tour winners this season, if not already exempt, will get invites.

As for qualifying, the USGA accepted 9,125 entries for this sixth U.S. Open at Pebble. It marks the eighth straight year that the number of entries surpassed 9,000.

Local qualifying (18 holes) will begin April 29 and end May 13 at 109 different sites. Sectional qualifying (36 holes) will take place June 3 at 10 sites, though qualifiers in Texas and Japan are scheduled for May 20 and May 27, respectively.

The USGA received 448 last-day entries on April 24, including 81 in the final hour. Joshua O’Hearn, a 22-year-old professional from Wentzville, Mo., submitted his entry just 46 seconds before the deadline of 5 p.m. ET. Bruce Doucett, a 30-year-old professional from Coto de Caza, Calif., was the first entrant on Feb. 20.