Hard times for 'Big Easy'
Arizona - One week after pulling out of a PGA Tour event with a neck injury, Ernie Els survived a wildly fluctuating encounter on Wednesday to reach the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
The smooth-swinging South African, an experienced matchplay golfer whose record at this event does not reflect his prodigious talent, came from three down after three holes to scrape past American Jeff Overton on the 19th green.
"I just hung in there, kind of used my experience a little bit just to hang in there," Els, 41, told reporters after recording just one birdie and three bogeys in 19 holes.
"Jeff wasn't 100 percent on his game, either. There were a lot of mistakes being made out there but it was an exciting day."
Els, nicknamed the 'Big Easy', withdrew from last week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera because of a neck problem but felt he was in good form for the elite matchplay event at Dove Mountain after benefiting from several days of practice.
"I thought I was really on form," the three-times major winner said. "I did a lot of good work coming into the week, but obviously tournament golf is a different matter and it kind of exposed me a little bit today."
Overton birdied the first two holes to leave Els three down after three and the slow-starting South African knew he was in for a long day - at best.
"I was just trying to get through it, trying to go as long as I can," said Els, who will face long-hitting American J.B. Holmes in Thursday's second round at Dove Mountain's Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
"I won the fifth hole and then I gave the sixth away. Then I won five in a row, and I couldn't close him out."
Although Els has won the European Tour's World Match Play Championship at Wentworth a record seven times, he has struggled to make an impact in the PGA Tour's equivalent.
In 10 appearances, he has been knocked out in the opening round five times, most recently by American Jonathan Byrd in 2008.
Els's best performance came in 2001 when the event was held in Australia for the first time and he reached the semi-finals, losing to Swede Pierre Fulke 2&1.
"I haven't played much (this season), so I'd like to get in the swing of things here," Els said. "Today was big for me to get through and play another round and see where I am."
Asked if his neck had bothered him at all against Overton, Els replied: "No, not at all. My neck was a hundred percent.
"I just wasn't quite there and hopefully I can play better. I think this course suits J. B. Holmes to a tee, so I'm going to have to be much better tomorrow."
Results from the first round of the $8.5 million World Golf Championships Match-Play Championship (x denotes seed):
Bobby Jones bracket
Lee Westwood (ENG x1) bt Henrik Stenson (SWE x16) 3 and 2
Nick Watney (USA x8) bt Anthony Kim (USA x9) 5 and 4
K.J. Choi (KOR x13) bt Retief Goosen (RSA x4) 1-up
Ryan Moore (USA x12) bt Francesco Molinari (ITA x5) 3 and 1
Matteo Manassero (ITA x15) bt Steve Stricker (USA x2) 2 and 1
Charl Schwartzel (RSA x7) bt Ryo Ishikawa (JPN x10) 20 holes
Luke Donald (ENG x3) bt Charley Hoffman (USA x14) 6 and 5
Edoardo Molinari (ITA x6) bt Martin Laird (SCO x11) 3 and 2
Ben Hogan bracket
Phil Mickelson (USA x1) bt Brendan Jones (AUS x16) 6 and 5
Rickie Fowler (USA x8) bt Peter Hanson (SWE x9) 1-up
Matt Kuchar (USA x4) bt Anders Hansen (DEN x13) 22 holes
Bo Van Pelt (USA x12) bt Louis Oosthuizen (RSA x5) 2-up
Graeme McDowell (NIR x2) bt Heath Slocum (USA x15) 4 and 3
Ross Fisher (ENG x10) bt Robert Allenby (AUS x7) 4 and 3
Stewart Cink (USA x14) bt Ian Poulter (ENG x3) 19 holes
Yang Yong-Eun (KOR x11) bt Alvaro Quiros (ESP x6) 20 holes
Gary Player bracket
Martin Kaymer (GER x1) bt Seung-yul Noh (KOR x16) 7 and 6
Justin Rose (ENG x9) bt Zach Johnson (USA x8) 2 and 1
Robert Karlsson (SWE x4) bt Hiroyuki Fujita (JPN x13) 5 and 3
Hunter Mahan (USA x5) bt Sean O'Hair (USA x12) 4 and 3
Rory McIlroy (NIR x2) bt Jonathan Byrd (USA x15) 4 and 2
Ben Crane (USA x10) bt Adam Scott (AUS x7) 4 and 2
Ryan Palmer (USA x14) bt Jim Furyk (USA x3) 2-up
Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP x6) bt Yuta Ikeda (JPN x11) 2 and 1
Sam Snead bracket
Thomas Bjorn (DEN x16) bt Tiger Woods (USA x1) 19 holes
Geoff Ogilvy (AUS x8) bt Padraig Harrington (IRL x9) 4 and 3
Mark Wilson (USA x13) bt Dustin Johnson (USA x4) 19 holes
Bubba Watson (USA x5) bt Bill Haas (USA x12) 3 and 2
Paul Casey (ENG x2) bt Richard Green (AUS x15) 19 holes
Jason Day (AUS x10) bt Kyung-Tae Kim (KOR x7) 3 and 2
Ernie Els (RSA x3) bt Jeff Overton (USA x14) 19 holes
J.B. Holmes (USA) bt Camilo Villegas (COL x11) 4 and 2