He’s won two US Open titles, and the way things are going, Ernie Els may find himself in contention for a third when the second major of the year gets underway at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
With rain of ‘biblical proportions’ hampering the normal transformation of a US Open course into the fiercest protector of par imaginable, getting the ball to stop on the greens is suddenly an easier proposition.
“We’re going to have a soft golf course this week all week,” he said. “It means that if you’re on your game you're going to have a lot of birdie putts. There’s quite a few par‑fours where you’ve just got to put it in the fairway. You can put it in the fairway with an iron, from a five‑iron or a three‑iron, just putting it into play, and then you’ve got quite a short second shot.”
So despite the somewhat quixotic endeavours of the US Golf Association to make the winner of the US Open sign for a score of par or worse – hardly the stuff fans want – Els believes there may be a low score this week.
“You can make some threes,” he said. “That’s not a number that's really familiar with the US Open is a three.”
But he had a warning in that regard, too: “But if you start missing some shots, the rough is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “If you hit it in the rough here you’re just advancing it 120 yards, 140 yards, most of the time. That’s still very penal.”
For all that, Els is still of the opinion that things will be easier as he searches for a fifth major championship, and a third US Open. “I think the course not going to bare its teeth the way it should,” he said. “I know guys were hoping for a firm test.
“I see a very close race with a lot of players in contention this year, unlike other US Opens. It’s going to be bunched. It’s going to be under par, you’ll be seeing quite a few numbers in the red. It’s going to be an exciting US Open.
“What number is going to win, I have no idea. It’s still a US Open, I don’t care if you play the easiest course in the world. Put US Open in front of it and everybody gets nervous, especially over the weekend.”
It is his 21st start in the US Open. Els’ experience is going to be invaluable – and if the game falls into place, he could win it for a third time.