San Martin, California - Reigning British Open champion Ernie Els brought the Claret Jug with him to the $5-million US PGA Frys.com Open with hope that he might recapture the form that won it for him last July.
“It's the holy grail, man,” Els said. “People have been searching for this their whole lives and don't get their hands on it so I like to take it around. To get my hands on this at my age has been really a bonus to my career.”
The 43-year-old South African star, who took his fourth major title at Royal Lytham three months ago when Australian Adam Scott took bogeys on the last four holes to squander the lead, finished fourth last year at this $5-million event.
“I did fairly well last year here and that definitely gave me a bit of a boost,” Els said. “That was my goal, to play a lot of golf and get myself into better positions on the weekends and see where my game is.
“That's kind of what we did and that's kind of what I want to start doing again now. I feel like since the Open, I haven't really been on form again.
“I'm working myself back into better habits again on the greens and in some aspects of my long game. Always nice to play these kind of events and see where you are and what you need to work on.”
Els recalled how not so long ago, some critics were saying his best days were long gone.
“A lot of fans, some of them, said they thought I was ready to retire,” Els said. “Now they're happy to see me around for another couple of years with an opportunity to win some more, so it has really been kind of a revival.
“It just makes you feel so special. People really want to show encouragement when you win. It's hard when a player is down the way I was last year. It would be difficult for me to root for a guy that's down all the time.
“When I won, the support I've had has just been unbelievable.”
Nicknamed “Big Easy” for his relaxed attitude, Els admitted that he had moments of doubt after going more than two years without a title until his Open crown.
“Even when I'm playing bad, it's all good. But it has been a big change. It has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Els said. “I'm starting to get on my game again and I know where I am and where I want to go. I'm really looking forward to majors again.
“It's a really terrible feeling competing out here and knowing in the back of your mind you don't know if you could handle it. Now I feel like I can really go out and enjoy my game again.”
The Frys.com Open is one of four season-ending US PGA events aimed mainly at players trying to crack the top 125 on the tour money winners list to keep their playing rights for next year. - Sapa-AFP