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Els finding his form at Heritage

By PETE IACOBELLI
Associated Press

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – The Big Easy is making it look, well, easy again.

Ernie Els showed the form that won him three major titles – and had gone missing for most of the past two seasons – on Friday in the Verizon Heritage, shooting his second consecutive 6-under 65 to take a three-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly.

“I haven't been quite consistent at this level,” Els said. “But there's been glimpses of good play. It's nice to be there again.”

Els still ranks fifth in the world, but has struggled since surgery to repair a ruptured knee ligament in 2005. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour in nearly three years and flamed out at the Masters last week, missing the cut at a major for the first time since the 1999 PGA Championship.

Now, the 37-year-old South African is back to his usual laid-back style.

“This week, I've tried to play the way I can play, and if I'm going to make a mistake, then I don't feel like it's the end of the world,” he said.

Els hasn't made too many mistakes so far. He's had only one bogey in the first two rounds. He held his ground starting on the more difficult back nine before he pounced on the birdie-rich front side with a stretch of four in five holes.

By the time he tapped in for his final birdie on No. 9, Els was five shots in front of the field – and a stroke off the tournament's 36-hole scoring mark set by Jack Nicklaus in 1975 and matched by Phil Mickelson in 2002.

Els, though, knows better than most how treacherous Harbour Town can be.

He's had six top-10 finishes in eight previous appearances and looked like a sure winner at least twice.

The biggest gaffe came four years ago. Els carried a two-stroke lead into the tournament's 70th hole, then inexplicably tagged his drive out of bounds for a double-bogey 6. He made bogey on the final two holes to fall out of a playoff.

In 2000, Els held a five-stroke lead over Stewart Cink with 12 holes to go. He went 5 over the rest of the way to fall to third.

“Sure, I've had my chances here in the past,” Els said. “As I've said before, you know, that's past history. I want to just try and control the present.”

Right now, Els looks as smooth as ever. Does he let his mind wander to Sunday evening and hearing the luxury flotilla off Calibogue Sound serenade him with horn blasts reserved for Harbour Town's champion?

“It's going to be difficult to shoot four 65s, let me tell you that,” said Els, grinning widely. “If it happens, it happens.”

The animated Kelly, dealing with a spring cold, bogeyed two of his first four holes. He fought back to 10 under, two behind Els, before closing with a bogey on No. 18.

“It was a 75 turned into a 70,” Kelly said. “I guess I can be pretty pleased with that.”

Zach Johnson continued his Masters' victory tour, once again celebrated by Harbour Town crowds. Johnson's game picked up some, too, with a 68 that moved him to 4 under.

Johnson is the first Masters winner to play the Verizon Heritage since Vijay Singh in 2000. And last week's success was never far away. Johnson got a champion's embrace from his father-in-law, who wasn't at Augusta National, soon after the round ended.

“It's awesome. It's very flattering,” Johnson said. “At the same time, I think the best thing for me after a week like that, the emotional drain, is to get back inside the ropes.”

This could be the best thing for Els, too. He's struggled to regain his past form, working on his swing with teacher David Leadbetter and talking to mental gurus like Jos Vanstiphout and Bob Rotella. When results weren't immediate, Els got mad at himself and probably, he admitted, “got in my own way.”

The Masters' meltdown was the last straw. It was difficult “not playing in that group like you're used to,” Els said. “That's just falling off the level where you feel you should be.”

By the end of the weekend, Els could return there again.

Divots: Ted Purdy, who lost the Verizon Heritage in a playoff to Cink in 2004, was disqualified when he was late for his 12:50 p.m. tee time. Purdy shot 5-over 76 in the first round. … World No. 2 Jim Furyk, the runner-up last year, shot a 73 Friday to miss the cut by a stroke. It was his first missed cut in nine events this season. … Davis Love III, the five-time Verizon Heritage champ, shot a 2-under 69, marking the 12th straight time he's had at least one sub-70 round here. … Nathan Green's 66 included a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 second. He says he cut a 3-iron into the green and when he heard the crowd's reaction, “I knew it went in.”

Scores with relation to par from the second round of the Verizon Heritage, played April 13 at the par-71, 6,973-yard Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C. (Note: a-amateur):

1. Ernie Els 65-65–130 -12
2. Jerry Kelly 63-70–133 -9
3. Fred Funk 67-67–134 -8
3. Stephen Leaney 66-68–134 -8
5. Sean O'Hair 69-66–135 -7
5. Kevin Na 67-68–135 -7
7. Rod Pampling 69-67–136 -6
7. Aaron Baddeley 70-66–136 -6
7. Boo Weekley 67-69–136 -6
10. Vaughn Taylor 71-66–137 -5
10. Nathan Green 71-66–137 -5
10. Dean Wilson 69-68–137 -5
13. Brandt Snedeker 71-67–138 -4
13. Ken Duke 71-67–138 -4
13. Bo Van Pelt 71-67–138 -4
13. Ben Crane 71-67–138 -4
13. Jason Bohn 70-68–138 -4
13. Kent Jones 73-65–138 -4
13. Jesper Parnevik 71-67–138 -4
13. Jose Coceres 66-72–138 -4
13. Zach Johnson 70-68–138 -4
22. Carl Pettersson 71-68–139 -3
22. J.P. Hayes 67-72–139 -3
24. Ryan Palmer 73-67–140 -2
24. Peter Lonard 70-70–140 -2
24. Brian Gay 70-70–140 -2
24. Doug LaBelle II 70-70–140 -2
24. Nick O'Hern 69-71–140 -2
24. D.J. Trahan 70-70–140 -2
24. Stephen Ames 72-68–140 -2
24. Eric Axley 71-69–140 -2
24. Mark Calcavecchia 69-71–140 -2
24. Ryan Armour 69-71–140 -2
34. Anthony Kim 69-72–141 -1
34. Mark Hensby 71-70–141 -1
34. Camilo Villegas 74-67–141 -1
34. Briny Baird 72-69–141 -1
34. Tom Pernice, Jr. 74-67–141 -1
34. Justin Leonard 69-72–141 -1
34. Joe Durant 72-69–141 -1
34. Greg Owen 70-71–141 -1
42. Hunter Mahan 72-70–142 E
42. Brian Bateman 72-70–142 E
42. Kirk Triplett 72-70–142 E
42. Ben Curtis 72-70–142 E
42. Jeff Maggert 72-70–142 E
42. Heath Slocum 74-68–142 E
42. Brandt Jobe 70-72–142 E
42. Charles Warren 70-72–142 E
42. Jeff Gove 71-71–142 E
42. David Branshaw 70-72–142 E
42. Steve Elkington 71-71–142 E
42. Will MacKenzie 72-70–142 E
42. Jason Gore 70-72–142 E
42. Tim Herron 69-73–142 E
42. Mark Wilson 72-70–142 E
42. Stewart Cink 67-75–142 E
42. Ryan Moore 69-73–142 E
42. Kelly Mitchum 72-70–142 E
60. John Daly 73-70–143 +1
60. Scott Verplank 71-72–143 +1
60. J.B. Holmes 70-73–143 +1
60. Davis Love III 74-69–143 +1
60. Tim Petrovic 72-71–143 +1
60. Kenny Perry 72-71–143 +1
60. Mathew Goggin 76-67–143 +1
60. Jonathan Byrd 76-67–143 +1
60. Geoff Ogilvy 70-73–143 +1
60. Matt Kuchar 74-69–143 +1
60. Robert Garrigus 74-69–143 +1
60. Glen Day 71-72–143 +1

Missed the cut

72. Bill Haas 74-70–144 +2
72. Cameron Beckman 71-73–144 +2
72. Jim Furyk 71-73–144 +2
72. Tom Lehman 72-72–144 +2
72. Joe Ogilvie 75-69–144 +2
72. Steve Jones 71-73–144 +2
72. a-Jonathan Moore 76-68–144 +2
72. Ryuji Imada 74-70–144 +2
72. Jeff Quinney 73-71–144 +2
72. Tripp Isenhour 73-71–144 +2
72. Wes Short Jr. 73-71–144 +2
72. Chad Campbell 71-73–144 +2
84. Cliff Kresge 73-72–145 +3
84. Bob Tway 76-69–145 +3
84. John Senden 73-72–145 +3
84. Y.E. Yang 73-72–145 +3
84. Bernhard Langer 73-72–145 +3
84. Craig Kanada 73-72–145 +3
84. a-Richie Ramsay 75-70–145 +3
84. Joey Sindelar 73-72–145 +3
84. Mark Brooks 71-74–145 +3
84. Robert Gamez 71-74–145 +3
84. Tim Clark 70-75–145 +3
84. Loren Roberts 71-74–145 +3
84. Jeev M. Singh 71-74–145 +3
97. Harrison Frazar 75-71–146 +4
97. Fredrik Jacobson 75-71–146 +4
97. John Mallinger 74-72–146 +4
97. Gavin Coles 73-73–146 +4
97. Bart Bryant 71-75–146 +4
97. Chris DiMarco 75-71–146 +4
97. Mathias Gronberg 72-74–146 +4
97. Daisuke Maruyama 75-71–146 +4
97. Chris Couch 72-74–146 +4
106. Woody Austin 74-73–147 +5
106. Matt Hendrix 74-73–147 +5
106. Lee Janzen 74-73–147 +5
106. Corey Pavin 73-74–147 +5
110. Bob Estes 74-74–148 +6
111. Brad Faxon 75-74–149 +7
111. Billy Mayfair 76-73–149 +7
111. Frank Lickliter II 76-73–149 +7
111. Dudley Hart 77-72–149 +7
111. Jason Dufner 77-72–149 +7
111. Troy Matteson 72-77–149 +7
111. Bubba Watson 75-74–149 +7
111. Johnson Wagner 75-74–149 +7
119. Richard S. Johnson 73-77–150 +8
119. Brett Wetterich 74-76–150 +8
119. Billy Andrade 77-73–150 +8
119. Lucas Glover 75-75–150 +8
123. Todd Hamilton 78-74–152 +10
124. Kevin King 74-79–153 +11
125. Jeff Sluman 77-77–154 +12
126. Michael J. Smith 84-72–156 +14
127. Mike Lawrence 77-80–157 +15
128. Parker McLachlin 81-78–159 +17
WD. Rich Beem 79-WD
WD. Pat Perez 81-WD
DQ. Ted Purdy 76-DQ
DQ. Daniel Chopra 70-DQ

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