Ernie Els, a Contender at the 2010 Masters? Not So Fast

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2010

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 15:  Ernie Els of South Africa hits during the Els for Autism Pro-Am on the Champions Course at the PGA National Golf Club on March 15, 2010 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Ernie Els won last week’s WGC-CA Championship in convincing fashion; there’s no question about that.

Even he who shall not be named would have had a difficult time carding anything better than Els’ final round 66 in blustery conditions at Doral.

Being that very few players win more than one event per year these days, it now appears that a single win immediately prompts talk of major championship glory.

Two weeks ago, Camilo Villegas won his first event in 18 months.  Let’s start fitting him for a green jacket immediately.   

Dustin Johnson has had a good deal of success at Pebble Beach over the past two years, so if you didn’t know any better, the media would have you believe that Johnson is a sure thing to contend at the 2010 U.S Open.  Granted, Johnson has won back-to-back titles at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but come July, the U.S. Open will be a far cry from a tournament where PGA Tour pros play alongside Chris Berman and Bill Murray.

And now we have Ernie Els.

The WGC-CA Championship was a huge win for Els.  But let’s not move him to the head of the major championship contender class just yet.

We’ve seen this episode before.

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Els’ last win came at the 2008 Honda Classic, which is certainly not a WGC, but a decent event all the same.

“He’s Baaack” was the headline most often seen the following day.

Well, Els certainly was “baaack” for a period of four days at the Honda Classic.  But in the weeks following his “breakout” win, Els pulled yet another Houdini-esque disappearing act.

Els missed the cut in four out of his next six events, including the 2008 Masters. 

Golf is a game of ups and downs, and although he may be one of the most admired and likeable characters on tour - and for good reason - Els has been horribly inconsistent over the past three years.

In early 2009 Els had three consecutive top-25 finishes heading into the Masters.  Things were looking up for the Big Easy.  That was, until he missed the cut at the Masters for the second consecutive year, and followed that up with a tie for 48th at the Verizon Heritage and a tie for 45th at the Players Championship.

Things were not looking so good for the Big Easy in mid-2009 until he broke out with an eighth place finish at The Memorial Tournament, just two weeks prior to the 2009 U.S Open.

Maybe things were once again looking up for Els.

That was, until he carded rounds of 78 and 77 and missed the cut by a large margin at Bethpage.

And so Els faded back into the shadows.  

That was, until Els finished eighth at the 2009 Open Championship followed shortly thereafter with a tie for sixth at the PGA Championship and a second place finish at the The Barclays.

Perhaps this latest tear would lead Els down the same road his good friend Vijay Singh followed to a FedEx Cup title and $10 million payday in 2008.  After all, Els had been on the verge of victory for weeks, it was only a matter of time before he broke out with another big win.

Els proceeded to miss the cut in his next event, tied for 38th at the BMW Championship and wound up finishing 22nd in FedEx Cup points.

“Two years ago when I won [the Honda Classic], I got all carried away and thought I was going to win Augusta,” Els said last Sunday at Doral. “This time, I just want to take this in.”

If only we could do the same despite our intense desire for a dominant force in a sport that’s been lacking one since he who shall not be named had a run with a fire hydrant, some hedges, and a tree last November.

Expecting Els to win the Masters and pulling for him to win the Masters are two different animals altogether.

You may not want to bet the farm on Els slipping into a green jacket on Masters’ Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with pulling for a true gentleman of the game to find success at Augusta.