Ernie Els leaves the green. (Getty Images)
Welcome to the new season of Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Jonathan Wall take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by writing email@example.com, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee and @jonathanrwall. Today, we discuss whether Ernie Els' latest misfire is a symptom of a greater problem with The Big Easy.
Busbee: Once again, Ernie Els comes up just short in his bid to win in 2012. While Jason Dufner's win was a great story for him, you and I both feel a touch of sadness that it came at the expense of Els. So it's time to ask: is this bad luck, or has the window closed on the Big Easy?
Wall: At 42, I'd be inclined to say Ernie's best years are behind him. But when you rank 10th on the PGA Tour in scoring average and 15th in greens in regulation, it's nearly impossible to discount a guy, no matter how old he is. But the putter is a huge problem, so much so that even a strong game from tee to green isn't enough to mask the issue. I wrote on Monday that the five-footer he missed on the first hole of the playoff on Sunday could've been chalked up to bad luck if it was a rare one-off, but Els has been missing makable putts all year. The four-footer to get in a playoff at the Transitions is another example of a guy who's just not confident with the putter. If his game was all over the place I'd declare the window closed, but for some reason I think if he can just get some confidence on the greens we could be looking at a guy who could win a couple more times before he's done. Am I the eternal optimist? Maybe.
Busbee: I'd venture that no player was more hurt, relatively speaking, by the rise of Tiger Woods than Els. Sure, Els won his majors, but how many more could he have won if Woods wasn't vacuuming up more than one in four in the early 2000s? Els is a deserving Hall of Famer, but to me, his remarkable career could have been iconic but for you-know-who. Your thoughts?
Wall: I definitely agree. Ernie Els was the total package in his prime and could've picked up a few more majors if Tiger wasn't grabbing them in bunches, but you could probably say the same thing for a number of other guys, like Vijay Singh. Based on his entire body of work Els will definitely get inducted into the Hall of Fame; however, it's hard not to look at his entire career and wonder if things would've turned out differently had Tiger not been around. I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say we could be talking about Els as one of the all-time greats.
Busbee: Agreed. So how viable is it that Els has a second (third?) act in him? The putting touch is the first to go, right? And given the fact that he's tried everything up to and including the belly putter, is he in the desperate-for-a-fix stage? If we've learned nothing from guys like Darren Clarke and Kenny Perry over the last few years, it's that you don't have to be in your early 30s to compete for majors, but until Els can get his steadiness back on the greens, he'll be consigned to the "other notables" section of the leaderboard, well off the front page.
Wall: I think another act is definitely possible, but Els, like a lot of pros dealing with putting issues, needs to get out of his own way. Go see a hypnotist, try putting with a broom ... I don't care what you do, just get out of your comfort zone. The crazy part is he's still darn close to being a consistent major contender for the next couple of years, but the clutch putting has to come back. If can find it again — watch out.
And you? What's your take on Ernie Els' prospects for the future?
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- Ernie Els