Masters door closing on Ernie
Johannesburg - Ernie Els will face the prospect of missing the first Major of the year unless he wins the PGA Tour's Houston Open this week to secure his spot in the Masters starting on April 5.
Els failed to finish in solo second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the weekend, which would have secured him a place at the Masters for the 19th year in succession.
He fired a final-round three-over 75 to end in a share of fourth on five-under-par 283, eight shots behind Tiger Woods who claimed his first official PGA Tour victory since 2009.
"I still hit the ball well," Els told the PGA Tour website on Sunday.
"I didn’t have my putting touch today and that was the difference.
"I was a little tentative again and the wind didn’t help too much on the greens either.
"I’m pleased with my ball striking, but again on the greens, I was awful."
Tee to green, Els has found his form recently, missing out on win a week ago when he bogeyed his final two holes at the Transitions Championship.
"Obviously, going into a week, a fourth place, you’d probably take it," he said.
"But it was bittersweet there again. I had a lot of chances today, and you know, I kind of blew it a little bit.
“I wasn’t good on the greens, and that’s the disappointing thing.
"I really hit the ball well and probably could have shot five under par if I putted anything like I did the first couple of days, and that was the disappointing thing."
The 'Big Easy' has struggled on the greens for much of the last two years, but needed only 27 and 26 putts in the second and third rounds respectively as he looked to have finally found something in his stroke.
Ultimately, in the final round, it was a familiar scene as Els needed 32 putts on his way to a fourth-round three-over score.
He would not have held out much hope of catching Woods as the American ran away with the tournament.
Going into the final round, however, the South African was well placed to make a run for second position.
With his fourth-place finish, Els improved his world ranking by four spots to number 58, with the top 50 in the world receiving invites to Augusta.
Now, only a win at this week's PGA Tour event, starting on Thursday, will book him the final spot.
Els also has a glimmer of hope of making it to the Masters with a special invite from the tournament organisers, but he has already said he does not expect one.