Ernie Els is back and better than ever! Ok, ok, I know what you're thinking .... what kind of drugs has Shanks been smoking? After all, it was only the Dunhill tournament in South Africa that he won against a less than stellar field. The top 20 finishers included only a few names that golf fans outside of S.A. might recognize like Immelman, Haeggeman & Lynn. For God's sake, he was 4 shots behind the incomparable Ulrich van den Berg with just 10 holes to go. Were it not for an ugly triple bogey by the leader on the 9th hole and his ensuing slide down the leaderboard, Els would've been playing for a high finish.
No, none of that is influencing my thinking. Rather, it's how Els is thinking and playing, even with a knee that is less than 100%. The Leopard Creek course they played was a Tour-sized 7,300 yards. After an uneven first round, the Big Easy finally got back into familiar playing territory with a strong 67 & 68 to get himself into the final pairing. More times than not, only the best players in the world will shoot a terrific final round when playing in that last group, where the pressure is greatest. So how did Els respond to that for the first time in 6 months? Only with a 5-birdie/1-bogey 68. He birdied the first 2 holes on Sunday, then played very solid golf for the rest of the day. Considering the layoff, Els would've been excused for not being comfortable in this situation and shooting a so-so score.
I know it's early but it appears to me that his injury-induced sabbatical has given Els a better outlook on his goals and desires, just as he stated last week. I say that he will be a force to be reckoned by the time the azaleas start blooming in Georgia.
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