Ernie Rolling As He Preps For Augusta

Ernie Els has returned to form with his 18th PGA Tour Victory
Ernie Els has returned to form with his 18th PGA Tour Victory

“I’d like to put this in some dye–some green dye!” said Ernie Els to the crowd at Bay Hill today as he donned the blue blazer he earned by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.  He said not to lessen today’s accomplishment but to imply show exactly what is on his mind these days. Tournament host Arnold Palmer, a 4-time Masters champion understands.

Els, the amiable South African, doubled his PGA Tour win total for 2010 this afternoon and clearly the donning of a green jacket and a silver trophy at Augusta National in well within his current abilities.

The 2002 Open Championship winner had to finish up four holes today after weather and darkness prevented a Sunday finish and it might just have been a blessing in disguise. Prior to the stoppage he had just scarred his scorecard with a double bogey on the 13th hole and followed it up with another miscue and bogey on the 14th that opened up an opportunity for his pursuers

But Els proved the form his win at the WGC CA Championship was no fluke and posted four straight pars today to eclipse runners-up Edoardo Molinari and Kevin Na by two strokes.

Of course Els is no stranger to the winner’s circle.  His new total of 18 PGA Tour wins includes a 1998 victory at Bay Hill and puts his worldwide professional victory total at 46.

So what would help to complete that resume and cement his path to the World Golf Hall of Fame?  In everybody’s mind it would have to be that third leg of the career grand slam, The Masters.  And even with a Tiger return Ernie has to be the favourite, on paper, and in the hearts of his many fans.

Two wins in his last two appearances leave little doubt about it and that feat was not lost on Els who has done it three times in his career.  “It feels special. I think if you’re a betting man, you know, you would have got really good odds anywhere in the world that Ernie Els would win two tournaments in a row, you know.

I know a lot of guys basically have written me off, you know, and a lot of guys probably said it was a fluke in Miami. It was hard work this week, but you know, two wins is definitely special. I’ll just keep working hard. There’s still a lot of flaws in my game that I’ve got to figure out and get right. I know I’m never going to play the game perfectly, but I can still improve.”

Els had originally intended to be at Augusta National today for a practice round but had to settle for a little more time in Orlando and a victory.  With an extra $1.08 million in his bank account and a boost of confidence he will instead head for Magnolia Lane tomorrow.

Accompanying him will be former NHL player Dan Quinn who has been splitting caddy duties for Els this year with Ricci Roberts.  With Roberts having been on the bag for both Els wins this year some may question that tactic but Els says there is no need to worry.  “I know a lot of guys said I should take Ricci, but we have made a decision. I’ve spoken to Ricci and Dan about it and they are happy and we’ll stick with it. You know, I don’t think anybody can tell me anything more about Augusta than I already know. I’ve had local caddies take me through there. I’ve had everybody take me through there. So I know exactly where everything goes.”

Els will play the Shell Houston this week but even if he does not win that he still feels he has some momentum in his effort to win a Green Jacket.  He says he is in a better frame of mind these days, more reminiscent of a time during the 1990’s when he was a contender in just about every event he played.

That bodes well for next week in Augusta.

And his joke about turning the blue blazer into the green one he has wanted for so long? It shows what is forefront on his mind, not just in 2010 but each and every year when the calendar turns to April.

“It’s always in my head this time of the year. You try and downplay it, but you do think about it. I mean, today I thought about it on the 72nd hole. I was like, okay, you’re standing at Augusta and you’ve got to hit this hard fade. So even — and there’s different circumstances. You think of shots that you’re going to be playing over there. And I always think about it. Especially, as I say this time of year, you always think about it. Practice shots, you try and get a draw going with your driver, and high shots with your irons and you try and have your short game very sharp.
That’s what I’ve been doing, and, you know, obviously I haven’t won for such a long time, and now to be able to feel like I can tee it up and play with these boys, it feels good.”

And it looks good too.

As nice as the colour blue is, green really is the colour of golf.

Maybe it finally is time for Ernie Els to get the garment with the most admired shade in the game.

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