It's been a long time since Ernie Els won a major. Ten years almost to the month, to be exact, at the 2002 British Open. You could argue that Els, winner of "only" three majors since 1994, is the greatest victim of the Tiger Woods era, the guy who almost certainly would have three to four more big trophies in his case had Woods not come along.
But looky here: Els is right back in the mix in a major, and Woods is all but out of the picture. My, how times have changed. Could this U.S. Open be one more chance at glory for The Big Easy? If so, it'll be for one key reason:
"Experience helps around here," Els said after his round. "For some reason I'm patient again this week and that's been kind of my virtue in major championship golf ... the ability to be patient and wait it out."
Well, experience and a bit of good fortune, too, like Els' 50-yard eagle chip on the 17th hole. That was one of the highlight shots of this Open, and it's the main reason why Els sits at +2, tied for fourth. He's three shots behind leaders Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk, but three shots is nothing at Olympic.
"Obviously, the shot on 17 is what dreams are made of, a shot like that in a U.S. Open," Els said. "So I'm really pleased."
Of course, before we get a little too in love with the idea of a Hall of Famer making a late charge, we need to remember that this is a brutal game. Els did play the final 12 holes in -5, a remarkable run, but before that he was +7 for the tournament and +3 for the first six holes on Saturday alone. So he'll need to figure a way to survive those initial holes if he's going to have any hope.
Els tees off at 2:50 p.m. Pacific Time, just 20 minutes before the leaders. By 4:00, we ought to have a good idea of how serious his charge for a fourth major will be.
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