A bitterly disappointed Ernie Els missed five putts inside 10 feet on Sunday and the final miss from four feet on the 18th saw him lose the Transitions Championship at Palm Harbor in Florida.
It was a tournament he should have won easily as he played magnificent golf from tee to green, but he had to watch as Luke Donald regained the world number one ranking from Rory McIlroy with a playoff victory over Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-moon Bae
Els was leading at 14-under par when he missed a four-foot birdie putt on the 16th, missed the green badly on the par-the 17th for a bogey, then pulled a four-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a 67 to finish one shot out of the playoff.
ÂItÂs a difficult green,Â he said of the 18th. ÂYou know, I pulled my second left, and chipped it up to three or four feet. I was trying to just jam it in there and I pulled it.Â
The Big Easy could have secured a Masters invitation by winning. Because he tied for fifth, he only moved to number 62 in the world. Bay Hill does not have as strong a field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, meaning Els might have to win this week or the Houston Open to get back to Augusta National.
ÂItÂs going to be tough,Â he said. ÂIÂm pretty hot now, and itÂs difficult to talk with a straight head here. If I take stock, I think IÂm playing good golf, and IÂve got to head into the next couple of weeks trying to get a win.Â
Retief Goosen showed on the opening hole that it was a minor miracle he was even tied for the lead going into the final round. His back was in such pain that he could barely finish his swing. He hit his drive into the trees, took five shots to reach the green and made double bogey as he slipped to 75. He could have qualified for the Masters by finishing among the top eight, and instead, he now gets an extended break.
Louis Oosthuizen put his opening two-over 73 behind him with three consecutive 68s to finish in a share of 20th with Goosen, while Rory Sabbatini closed out a poor week with a six-over 77 to finish in 74th.
Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark missed the cut.
Els is going to have to spend time on the belly putter as he keeps trying to get into the Masters. If he can master his putting stroke Â once such an impressive part of his armoury Â he can win anywhere again.