Ernie Els is scenting a third US Open Championship title after recovering from a nightmare start to this third round.
The South African, winner at Oakmont in 1994 and Congressional in 1997, appeared to have blown his chances of securing a hat-trick of victories after dropping three shots over the Olympic Club’s fearsome first five holes.
But an exquisite bunker shot at the driveable par four seventh hole set up a birdie chance, which he duly took before notching further gains at the eighth and 12th holes to repair the early damage.
The best was yet to come, however, as Els executed a perfect chip on the par five 17th hole to record an eagle which launched him into contention on two over.
Els’ 68 was his second successive sub-par round, and gives the ‘Big Easy ‘an outstanding chance of capturing his fourth Major title.
He said: “I’m in a much better mood now than I was on the sixth tee, when I was three over for the round and seven over for the event. So to come back and play the last 12 holes in five under is quite amazing, and obviously the shot on the 17th is what dreams are made of. It’s one of those one in a thousand shots, so I’m really pleased.”
After carding an opening round of 75 which featured a triple double bogey eight, Els might have feared he had played himself out of the tournament; but a positive mental attitude has helped the 42 year old slowly creep back up the leaderboard.
“I feel that my mental attitude this week has been quite good,” he said, “because I’ve had a couple of train wrecks out there – on the 16th the first day I made an eight, and I also made double on the fourth on the first day. So hopefully I got those out of the way.
“Experience definitely helps around here. For some reason, I’m staying patient again this week, and my virtue in Major Championship golf has been the ability to be patient and wait it out. And I think you’re going to have to do that tomorrow. If you have a little bit of a flier somewhere in the round, you’ve got to take it and then really protect it.”