Johannesburg - A visibly distraught Ernie Els finished with bogeys on his final two holes to end one shot outside a playoff in the PGA Transitions Championship in Florida on Sunday.
Els will be left wondering about his future, which includes missing the Masters after playing the year's first Major 18 years in a row.
“It's going to be tough to get over this,” Els said after the round.
On the 18th he hit a good drive, pulled his second and missed the short par putt, but Els could not offer much insight in a television interview after his latest crushing loss.
“What happened? Well I pulled my second left and chipped it up there," he said.
"I didn't have a great lie on my third shot and I pulled my putt.”
Els held the lead throughout the back nine, but stumbled at the end to finish on 12-under 272, one off a four-man playoff won by Englishman Luke Donald who reclaimed the world number one spot.
The 'Big Easy' missed a four-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and then another four-footer for par on the 18th, after Donald, playing ahead, had posted 13-under.
Els needed a win to ensure he lifted his world ranking inside the top 50, qualifying for Augusta, and with a share of fifth he improved marginally from 68th to 62nd, still 12 away from securing a place at the Masters.
He will now have two more regular season events to produce a high finish in an effort to improve his ranking.
His putting, which has been his Achilles heel for touching on two years now, seemed to have clicked on the front nine as he had the pace on the long putts and was holing the shorter ones.
Number one in greens in regulation for the week, he used the putter 28 times in the fourth round.
The way he missed short putts coming down the stretch, however, will give him sleepless nights for some time.
Els had moved to six under for his round with a birdie on the 12th hole.
Before the crushing climax, with a chance to go two ahead on the par-five 14th, he was just short of the putting surface in two.
There he hit an usually poor chip to around 20 feet, and while he managed a good stroke, he was not able to convert.
Retief Goosen, another veteran South African, began the final round in the lead on 11-under par, but battling a bad back, he fell to four-over 75 in a share of 20th.
Louis Oosthuizen, meanwhile, also finished tied for 20th for the week with a three-under 68 in the final round.
Rory Sabbatini finished well down in 74th spot on five-over par for the tournament.