2010 Masters: For Els, Augusta has been anything but easy

Augusta, Ga. | Ernie Els has special feelings for the Masters. But in his 17th go-around at Augusta National, it seemed as if the golf course has a mystifying spell on him. Nobody came into the 74th Masters any hotter than Els, who won twice on the Florida Swing. Yet, he knew his chances at a green jacket were gone as early as Thursday’s opening round.

In nine of his 16 appearances at the Masters, Els had been in the top 10 after three rounds at Augusta, but the three-time major winner never has found that magic on Sunday.

This year, victory never was in his thoughts, a final-round 68 nudging him only into the top 20. Els tied for 18th at 1-under 287.

Els’ best chances at the Masters came in 2000 and 2004; he lost to Vijay Singh in ’00 and to Phil Mickelson’s leap – and first green jacket – in ’04.

Els admits he has not been the same at this golf tournament since.

“This place just does it to me,” Els said after a 3-over 75 Saturday.

“I prepared and prepared, and I think about it. It’s killing me.”

At 40, Els knows his chances of winning at Augusta are diminishing. Only four players have won the Masters in their 40s – Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1978), Jack Nicklaus (1986) and Mark O’Meara (1998) – but none since the course was drastically lengthened in 2002.

Els thought he had it right this year. He was on a hot streak. Even through the first 17 holes Thursday, Els was in solid position at 3 under. But then there was No. 18. He made double and shot 71.

“I knew I needed to shoot four rounds in the 60s,” he said, “and then double-bogeying 18 kind of killed me.”

Another year, and more Masters heartache for the Big Easy. He thought he was ready, coming to Augusta early to prepare, but he said he will rethink his strategy going forward.

“I think next year I’m just going to come in Wednesday, or Tuesday night, and play and leave the family at home,” he said. “Seventeen years of playing practice rounds. . . . I mean, it’s crazy.

“We don’t jell with the place.”

Els mentioned other great players who never won at the Masters – Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman and Johnny Miller, among others – and hopes he does not go without a green jacket, too.

“Maybe (not winning the Masters) will be a huge void in my career,” he said. “If it’s not going to be, it’s not going to be.”

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