Ernie Els has declared himself fit for any battle over the weekend after rediscovering his love of the greens and a rib injury that is gradually getting better.
The 46-year-old South African legend has surprised his legion of fans, and himself, with a polished performance at the halfway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Rounds of 68 and five-under par 67 yesterday seeing him end the second day just one shot behind leader Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain at nine-under par 135.
Such a scenario never looked possible, especially with the four-time major champion suffering from a horrible case of yips the whole of last year, missing putts from inside a couple of feet several times. The situation has been so bad that the smooth-swinging Els did not record a single top-10 finish since a tied fifth at the Hong Kong Open in October 2014. That’s a run of 34 tournaments.
Add to that, Els suffered from a rib injury while warming up on Wednesday and was forced to pull out of the pro-am.
But after hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation and putting decently on Thursday, Els showed there was still a lot of heat left in his putter yesterday as he finished with 28 putts, including a par save from 25 feet, and a couple from 10 feet.
A visibly excited Els said: “Yes, I feel like I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m not dreading the greens. That’s where I’ve been there for the last couple of years since I won The Open Championship.
“I feel very different. I feel like, you know, I don’t mind making a 2-footer or a 4-footer. I feel I can do that, and my ball-striking has been okay.
“It’s a complete turnaround from a couple weeks ago where I was dreading to get on the greens. I’m actually enjoying it on the greens. The surfaces are just unbelievable and I’ve got a lot more confidence in the stroke and in the setup and all of that stuff.
“As for the ribs, it’s getting better each day. I can still feel it but it’s a lot better. I just have to keep working on it. I can’t use it as an excuse anymore. It feels a lot better. So, I’m looking forward to the weekend. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m playing pretty good.”
Highlight of Els’ bogey-free round yesterday was the eagle three he made on the par-5 18th. It was even more significant because on Thursday, he had hit a great second shot into the green Thursday, but the ball hit the bank and then rolled back into the water guarding the front.
The revenge was clinical yesterday. Els hit a screamer of a tee shot which cut across the dogleg and left him a six-iron second from 188 yards. He made the eagle putt from 12 feet.
Els was joined by compatriot Trevor Fisher Jnr (68) and England’s Danny Willett (65) on 135 later in the day, before their clubhouse lead was eclipsed late in the evening by a Cabrera-Bello birdie on the 18th hole.
The Spaniard world No85, who has been impressive with his form lately and finished second in Doha last week, said he did not hit that ball that well for his 67, but the putter was hot.
“I mean, today has been a little bit of a different round to yesterday,” said the Spaniard. “Yesterday, I really felt I played great until the green. I gave myself lots of chances.
“And today was the exact opposite. I didn’t play as good, as sharp. It was windy. I didn’t quite find my tempo but the putting was extremely hot today. I rolled one of the best putting rounds of my life today, so that made up for everything else.”
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