Ernie Els took the seemingly glacial pace of moving day at the Lake Course at Olympic Club and turned it on its head on Saturday with an eagle on 17 to put himself right in the frame for his third US Open title.
“I was pin high,” said Els of his chip in on 17, “which was fine, and the green angles towards you. And I was in the first cut the little fringe there, beautiful lie; and I guess it was about a probably almost a 50-yard shot almost into the hole. So it’s one of those one in a thousand shots.”
It left him in a share of fourth on two-over for the tournament, with Graeme McDowell out in front on one-under with Jim Furyk, and Fredrik Jacobsen was on one-over alone in third.
The Big Easy shares fourth with Lee Westwood, Blake Adams and Nicolas Colsaerts at two-over.
“I’m in a much better mood now than I was on the sixth tee,” said Els. “This afternoon I was three-over for the round, seven-over for the event. So to come back and play the last 12 holes in five-under is quite amazing, and obviously the shot on 17 is what dreams are made of, a shot like that in a US Open. So I’m really pleased.”
And it came on a day which saw Tiger Woods slip from contention with a five-over 75 to put him in a share of 14th at four-under for the tournament, five strokes adrift.
While he is not out of things on a course which can make complacency pay in an instant, Woods will battle to keep in touch with the kind of consistency displayed by Furyk, or the kind of golf that McDowell displayed on his way to a rare two-under.
Woods finished in a share of 14th with Retief Goosen, Martin Kaymer and Matt Kuchar – all players who will need the players ahead of them to unravel somewhat to be able to win, and they are all well capable of winning.
But Els brings a deep desire to the final round, as well as an ingrained knowledge of what it takes to win – any title, let alone a major: “Experience helps around here. For some reason I’ve been patient again this week and that’s been kind of my virtue in major championship golf – the ability to be patient and wait it out. And I think you're going to have to do that tomorrow. If you have a little bit of a flier somewhere in the round take it and then protect it,” he said.
Behind him, Charl Schwartzel, who was the best of the South Africans who made the cut, battled his way through an abdominal tear to a four-over third round to slip to seven-over for the tournament and a share of 32nd.
Branden Grace soldiered on, making a three-over 73 in the third round to be eight-over heading into the final round in a share of 42nd.
Up in front, Els will be looking for the kind of break one needs to win a major: “If I’m within four that’s a great chance,” he said. “I think if you get it into the red numbers, I think you’ll win this tournament. Somehow. I know it’s saying a lot from two-over, but red numbers will win.”