Ernie easing into Open mode

He’s had 12 top 10s in the Open Championship in a storied career which saw Ernie Els inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year.

And, of course, there was the triumph in 2002 – one of three major titles at the peak of his powers, and indication, if any were needed at that point, that he had arrived and was clearly a player of substance.

The Hall of Fame honour cements that ‘substance’ thing, even though the recognition came in a year in which his game seemed to be slipping from him.

He was wonderful in his home-turf SA Open Championship victory in Durban last December, but has had a run since then which has had him and his fans scratching their heads in bewilderment.

In the rain-hit Barclays Scottish Open, however, things seemed to be turning around.

“For the most part I hit the ball well all week,” he wrote in his weekly blog. “With no wind to speak of it was a very low scoring week, so 11-under par for the 54 holes played wasn’t exactly shooting the lights out, but this was probably the best competitive golf I’ve played in a while.”

He’s a little coy: Any time a player of Els’ class and experience outs together three rounds in the 60s – and who’s to say he wouldn’t have added a fourth had the Scottish Open not been reduced to 54 holes – there has to be a sense he’s hit a vein of form.

How rich that vein turns out to be remains to be seen at Royal St George’s later this week.

For now, though, Els will be doing all the right things. “I’ll play a practice round every day between now and Thursday and basically avoid all other unnecessary distractions,” he said. “As always, the objective is to get my mind and my game in the right place for when the gun goes.”

The last time the Open was played at Sandwich was 2003, and Els finished 18th behind winner Ben Curtis. And the time before that, in 1993, Els became the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in an Open.

“Trouble was, Greg Norman did it 40 minutes later and his total was seven shots better!” said Els. “In 2003 scoring was much tougher. Ben Curtis was the only player to finish under par and I think I’m right in saying that the lowest score all week was 67.”

Els had a 68 in his second round that year – and he will be drawing on memories of that round, rather than the 79 he had in the second round last year as he missed the cut in the Open for the first time since he first played it as an amateur in 1989.

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