Els aiming to stay in top gear

01/08/2012 18:53:20
Ernie Els   (Getty Images)
Ernie Els (Getty Images)
Ernie Els hopes to maintain his level of performance at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, despite the whirlwind of attention following his thrilling Open Championship win.

The South African came from four shots behind on the back nine to pip Adam Scott to The Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and after missing the cut in Canada last week, he is keen to return to the high standards he set in the back nine 32 to clinch a fourth Major. 

“The whole thing happened quite fast,” he said. “I didn't see what Scotty did obviously in live play. 

“But I heard, and then I basically switched my telephone on and had friends reporting to me what was going on. I was obviously just praying to get in a play-off. The way it finished, I still feel for Scotty, but this one came my way for once. 

The 42 year old added: “Stats are against you at our age. But I think the 40 somethings have really proven themselves through the years. 

“You can go back to Mark O'Meara, you can even go further back to Ray Floyd, you can go back to Hale Irwin, you can go back to Ben Hogan. 

“Vijay Singh, myself, Darren Clarke, you're talking about quite a few guys in their 40s who have won Majors. The game of golf is such that you get lucky every now and again, and I definitely got lucky the other day.”

Despite two WGC titles, Els is keen to improve on his record at Firestone – where he has not recorded a top ten finish since 2001. 

“I haven't had a top ten or sniffed a top five here for many, many years, so I'd actually love to have a decent week here this week,” he added.

Many thought Els’ days at the top level were numbered when he dropped to 68th in the Official World Golf Ranking earlier in the year – a slide that saw him miss out on competing in the Masters Tournament for the first time since 1999.

But a decision to work with psychologist Sherylle Calder appears to have completely rejuvenated his short game – despite Els’ insistence that he wants to return to the short putter at some point.

“I've known her over ten years,” he added. “I'm a big rugby lover, and Sherylle, she's worked in a lot of sports, but obviously worked with our Springbok rugby team. The Springboks come to Great Britain in November, and normally when we lived in England, I'd always be on the bandwagon there watching rugby and going around with the players.

“I gave Sherylle and some of the staff a lift back to London on our plane, I think it was about in 2003 or something, and we did briefly talk about it. She really wanted to start working with me because she really felt she could help me, but back then I think I was Number Two or Three in the world and pretty bulletproof. I didn't really think I needed anybody's help. 

“It's funny how times change. Ten years later, and Johann Rupert actually wanted me to start working with her again. I saw Sherylle in January in Fancourt, and I was pretty desperate on the greens and thought I'll give it a go and see what it's really all about, and we started working. 

“I felt just things that she was doing - just little patch up stuff for that week was things that she took me right back into my heyday on the greens in the late '90s, with exactly the things that I would do without even thinking about. It just shows you how far I went off the beaten track. She really brought me back, and then we started working on things that she's really experienced at.” 

As for the man Els denied, Australian Scott comes into the week as defending champion and insists he is fully recovered from the disappointment of coming so close to a first Major only to be denied at the final hurdle.

“I really just felt a bit shocked and almost numb of feeling about it,” said Scott, who beat Luke Donald here 12 months ago. “I certainly didn't beat myself up and have to curl up in a corner. 

“It just all happened so fast, even looking back on it, how quickly it can slip away. Without doing that much wrong, it was just compounding mistakes.  

“I felt overall the whole week and the way I've looked at it is I played some amazing golf and did what I needed to do, and the things I've worked on are obviously working. 

“There wasn't that much healing for me. My game is in really great shape, and I just took a few days to rest up, then just thought about how great I played. I felt like it was my week, and I played like a champion, but I just played four poor holes at the end, and you can't win and do that. 

“It's just motivation for me. I think I'm right on the right track, keep doing what I'm doing and I can get myself more chances like that.”