For Ernie Els, this week at TPC Sawgrass is huge, as he looks for one of the few accolades he hasn’t yet achieved in his career.
Despite this being the 20th time Els is entering the event, the 43-year-old South African has never won The Players Championship. Last year, Els failed to even make the cut at Sawgrass, shooting back-to-back rounds of 74 and bringing his workweek to an abrupt end. Of course, the effects of yet another disappointing attempt at the Players wouldn’t hold Els back for long. As we know, he was the beneficiary of a late Adam Scott collapse at The Open Championship, and celebrated his fourth major victory, and his first in a decade.
Despite that success, though, “The Big Easy” readily admits that the Players are still an important event for him. “In 20 tries, I’ve never won THE PLAYERS,” Els blogged for the PGA Tour‘s website. “That needs to change this week at TPC Sawgrass”. In order for that to happen, he at least feels he has a good grip on what has to change. “You need to be patient and there are moments when you need to play the percentages and make par your friend. The key I think is you have to hit it in the fairways. In fact, when I look back at the times I’ve struggled here it is when I haven’t driven the ball well enough.”
So even though he knows what to do, will it happen? He has only one top 10 on the PGA Tour since he took the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s in July. While he has finished in the top 10 at The Players four times, his last time in that position was in 2008. Els is also struggling with his driving this season, ranking only 151st in accuracy off the tee in his seven starts on Tour.
It’s not all negative, though. Hs is still ranked 22nd in the Official World Golf Rankings, after all. Els also just finished second in the Asian Tour’s CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters, and he tied for 15th in his last PGA start at the Zurich Classic. If his long game is as good as he says it feels, perhaps he has a chance to change his luck at Sawgrass. However, he’ll have to not only avoid challenges from the infamous island 17th, but he’ll also have some big-time contenders including defending champion Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, and a returning Tiger Woods, who appears to be at the top of his game as well.
It’s tough to root against Ernie. But if he’s going to win golf’s “fifth major”, he’ll need to be playing his best game. The odds seem to be stacked against him, and it may just be a bit too much to overcome.