Ernie Els had played in 11 WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championships, and in five of the first eight experienced what Luke Donald did on Wednesday: defeat in the first round.
Els, a 5-and-4 winner over top seed and World No. 1 Donald, will play in the second round Thursday against Denmark’s Peter Hanson in hopes of moving past the second round for the first time since 2009.
“I just feel very fortunate to be in this event, because there is so much I have to play for,” said Els, who entered the Match Play at No. 65 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I have to get myself in the Masters and Doral. I need to get going, so I’m just fortunate to go through.”
Since the U.S. Open in 1993, Els has missed only one major championship, the 2005 PGA Championship, which was due to injury. If he doesn’t win this week, he is left with only two or three events to earn a spot in the Masters.
If Els can get into the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he would give himself a good chance to move into one of the exempt categories for the Masters.
But even a high finish can help Els move up in the world rankings at a time when he is playing well – as Donald was quick to find out on Wednesday.
“I think he didn’t want to play me and I sure . . . didn’t want to play him the first round,” Els said of Donald. “But that’s the way it worked out. “
Donald was unfortunate to have to play Els in the first round, but the odds are that Donald should have still prevailed. In the history of the Match Play, the No. 1 seeds’ record in the first round was 14-2.
“It’s a terrible ride home, believe me,” Els said of Donald’s loss. “I feel for Luke. He had nothing to lose, but everything to lose. He’s got a lot of pressure on him. Yeah, I know exactly what it feels like. You’ve seen me walk 18, 19, 20 holes and get blasted on this thing in the first round. It’s not a great feeling.”
Els has progressed beyond the second round only twice, in 2001 when he was the No. 1 seed but got stunned in the semifinals by Pierre Fulke, and in 2009 when he lost to Stewart Cink in the quarterfinals.
But you can throw out the records on Thursday.
“I played well,” Els said of his performance. “I thought I hit the ball well and eventually made the odd putt.”