Can Ernie dig himself out of his Masters hole?

Ernie Els is playing the Shell Houston Open for a spot in the Masters next week, and, strangely enough, he brings great form into the event despite the near-misses he’s suffered in the past two weeks.

The tournament is played on a course where the greens are always gingered up to major-esque speed as a nod to what will face the players lucky enough to go to Augusta the following week.

It’s luck that Els is going to need large dollops of, too, as he needs a victory to play his way into an event where he has been runner-up twice and where he badly wants a win to help him move a step closer to a life’s ambition of completing a career grand slam.

Luck because his putting has simply not co-operated during the last two weeks when he has been in a position to nail down that Masters invitation – at the Transitions Championship two weeks ago and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.

“Again I was pleased with my ball striking, but on the greens I was awful,” he wrote in his weekly blog on his website. “I could have probably shot five-under out there on Sunday if I had putted anything like I did the first couple of days. It wasn’t like I didn’t have my share of chances. On reflection I think I was a little tentative and that was the most disappointing thing.”

And, as he acknowledges, he’s going to have to put thoughts of the Masters out of his head as he goes about his business at Redstone Golf Club in Houston this week.

“I need to win here to secure my place at Augusta,” he wrote. “I’m playing good golf now, so obviously it will be great if I’m there. If I’m not, so be it. I’m just glad my game is coming around. So whatever happens this week, I really feel now like I can have a good year.”

So it’s down to dealing with Redstone and that alone. “This is another really good tournament and in many ways the perfect course to play the week leading up to the Masters,” said Els.

“It is always in unbelievably good shape and although there’s nothing quite like Augusta, the way they set up the course in Houston presents a similar kind of test. It’s a big golf course with firm, fast greens and not much rough to speak of. It’s a proper championship golf course in every way from tee to green.”

So the final piece of the puzzle is to get rid of that tentativeness in his putting. It’s not going to be easy on greens where the tournament staff try to start the week with the greens running at 13 on the stimp.

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