2004: The Masters - Els delivers, but can’t solve Augusta’s spell

Augusta, Ga.

In the end, standing on the majestic practice green at Augusta National preparing for a playoff that never would happen, there was nothing more for Ernie Els to do. He shook his head in disbelief as the crowd at the 68th Masters went absolutely bonkers for the newly crowned champion, scooped up his Titleist balls with the back of his putter and stormed to the stately clubhouse.

He’d just shot 67 on a highly demanding golf course. On Sunday, at Augusta, of all places, where the deep tradition of Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus beckons a champion to step up. He had stepped up. And still he fell shy of collecting the green jacket he so dearly covets as the third jewel in the career Grand Slam he doggedly pursues.

“I played as good as I could,” Els reasoned.

“What more can you do, you know? I guess Phil (Mickelson) deserved this one. He played great down the stretch. You know, you’re just . . . you’re there in another guy’s hands. There’s nothing you can do.”

Els held up his end of the bargain, playing brilliantly in the final round. He made eagles at Nos. 8 and 13, and followed both with incredible, scrambling par saves at 9 and 14.

By the time his ball settled to the bottom of the cup for eagle at 13, he was 4 under for the day, 7 under for the tournament and had a three-shot cushion on Mickelson, who was standing over his tee ball at the short but devilish 12th.

When Mickelson pulled close with birdies at 12 and 14, Els made one last push, making birdie from over the green at the par-5 15th with a deft chip to inches. It seemed as if Els had done all he needed to, even when his 18-footer slipped past the cup at 18.

“You’d think going out and shooting 67 on Sunday, it would have been enough,” said Els’ longtime caddie, Ricci Roberts. “At least I thought so. That’s as good as I’ve seen him play here.”

Mickelson came to Augusta with a stellar record – top-7 finishes in each of the last five years – but no victory to show for it. Now Els must solve the riddle of Augusta and the Masters. He absolutely loves the course, but it has a spell on him he has yet to overturn. Two years ago he slipped from the hunt when he made triple-bogey 8 at the 13th hole. Sunday marked his fifth consecutive top-6 Masters finish.

This time he’d handed nothing away.

He’d done all he could.

“I’m going to look myself in the mirror tonight and say, ‘Well done,’ ” Els said. “It’s one of those things. That’s golf. I’ve had some good wins and I’ve had some tough losses, and this is one of the tough losses."

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