Augusta - If this was Ernie Els' final round at the Masters, he's made peace
with the long-ago predictions for Augusta National success that never
The Big Easy completed his 23rd Masters on Sunday with a
6-over 78, better than the 83 he scored ON Saturday but still nowhere
close to what the 47-year-old four-time major champion still expects out
of his game.
He finished at 20-over, dead last in the field and
three shots behind 58-year-old Larry Mize. Els' five-year exemption into
Augusta National for winning the 2012 British Open expired this year.
He'll have to earn his way back through better golf.
content either way, desiring another chance to play amid the Georgia
pines but grateful for the 23 years he's had to chase a green jacket.
"I've won a lot of events
around the world, but this one just eluded me. And that's fine," Els said.
Els opened strongly with an even-par 72 on Thursday and made
the cut for the 17th time with a 75 on Friday. His game went south
after that, with an 83 on Saturday - his highest score ever here - that
included three double bogeys.
Els, first on the course Sunday,
could not muster much of a final-round charge. He had a brief flourish
with back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eight holes before his
struggles re-emerged in the form of consecutive double bogeys on the
13th and 14th.
Els said early bird patrons setting up chairs for
the afternoon shootout sure to come gave him applause and ovations, a
testament to the South African's Hall of Fame career. If only, he said,
he could've done his part on the course.
"The negative was just my play was atrocious," he said. "That's the hard part to take."
Els was a tall, young golfer with a fluid swing when he
arrived at Augusta National in 1994. The rookie finished eighth that
year, his play touching off predictions of multiple green jackets for a
player whose game seemed perfectly matched to Augusta.
His peak at
the Masters came in a run from 2000 through 2004 with five consecutive
finishes in the top six, including runner-up finishes to Vijay Singh in
2000 and Phil Mickelson in 2004. The one-stroke loss to Mickelson, best
remembered for Lefty's celebration leap on No. 18, took something out of
Els, who never again finished better than 13th.
Els said his
initial trip here was among his most memorable experiences. He played
with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw in one round and that year's
winner, Jose Maria Olazabal, in another.
Els said the things he
learned from them at Augusta National helped him two months later when
he stunned the golf world to win the 1994 US Open at Oakmont. Els
added another US Open title in 1997 and two British Open titles in
2002 and 2012.
He said on Sunday he'll do his best to pick up a
qualifying victory, starting next week at the RBC Heritage on Hilton
Head Island, South Carolina, to play the Masters again. But he won't
lose sleep if it doesn't, happy with a career featuring several major
highs to blunt the lows like this week.
"If I get back, great," Els said. "It's obviously not totally out of the picture. But if it is, it is."
"This tournament was just not for me," he grinned. "But I have loved every minute of being here and I'll come back somehow. Maybe just to have a couple of beers."