Wednesday, July 19, 2006

No One Els Will Stop Ernie

Part III of British Open Preview

By Jared Trexler

Royal Liverpool continues to fry in the British summer sun. Wind jackets and wool hats have been replaced by thigh highs and tube tops.

Many patrons were even caught sunbathing during Tuesday's practice rounds.

It's un-Open-like at Hoylake, with the course playing firm and fast, which are just nice words for short and easy.

The weather and course don't resonate with a normal Open championship, but this week's winner will build Liverpool's return to the Open rotation as the likewise return of a true champion.

Welcome back, Ernie. We knew it wouldn't be Easy. But a pristine record across the Pond, coupled with recent good form at Loch Lomond and the ability to cruise into Hoylake under the radar resonates loudly with The Phanatic.

While the winds may not whip, the Open will blow back in a quiet South African.

Ernie Els will come out victorious at the British Open.

The Big Easy has three second-place finishes bundled in six top-10 finishes over the course of the last decade at the Open championship. His worst finish over that stretch is a joint finish of 34th place last year. He hoisted the Claret Jug in 2002.

That record is second to nobody in the field this week. Els is comfortable hitting the ball low or high, has a solid middle game and creativity around the large, undulating greens customary at the Open.

Many will argue that Ernie's record is overshadowed this season by poor play and continued recovery from a torn ACL. His pass to the ball looked shaky early in the season, as it appeared Els was easing into every shot with the injury in the back of his mind.

His best finishes in 11 PGA Tour appearances this season are a couple of seventh-place showings at Doral and Hilton Head. He barely sneaked into the top 30 at Augusta and Winged Foot, and has slid from third to eighth in the world.

Els is the prime example that golf is 90 percent mental.

He started seeing sports psychologist Bob Rotella in hopes of pushing the apprehensions out of his mind. Somewhere inside Els is an enormous amount of talent, a skill set that has been blocked this season by constant questions of health.

Nowhere were the lingering doubts more prevalent than on the greens, with Els spending an exorbitant amount of time over each putt. He hit 16 greens in a EuropeanTour event at Wentworth early in the season...and still shot 74.

Yet, last week at Loch Lomond Els gradually began to turn the corner. He tied for ninth in the British tune-up, finishing with three consecutive rounds in the 60s.

The result indicates a possible resurfacing of a three-time major champion, one that finished second in three majors during Tiger's epic run during the 2000 season.

Els' knee is 98 percent perfect. The other two percent rests in self doubt that will be erased with a sterling start Thursday at Hoylake.

The field should take notice. If Ernie can fashion his fourth consecutive round in the 60s to start the British Open, the holster may once again be fully loaded.

Then, Els can finally start shooting bullets at the flagsticks and reappearing on the leaderboard.

We at The Phanatic think it will happen. And once the ball gets rolling (into the hole), it may even begin to look Easy.

Jared Trexler is the Golf Writer for The Phanatic. Read the other two installments of our comprehensive British Open Preview, "Will It Ever Be the Same?" and "A Continent's Hope." He can be reached at

**Picture courtesy of Getty Images**

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