Els to say farewell to belly putter

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iol spt apr9 Ernie Getty Images Ernie Els says he will use the long putter for the last time at the year's first Major - The Masters at Augusta. Photo by Richard Heathcote

Johannesburg – Ernie Els says he will use the long putter for the last time at the year's first Major - The Masters at Augusta, Georgia, starting on Thursday.

The Big Easy won the British Open in 2012 at Royal Lytham and St Annes with the belly-putter after a drought of ten years in Major Championships.

It was his fourth Major triumph after winning his previous three with the short putter.

"The long putter is in my bag this week for the last time in a Major, then that's it," said Els on his website.

"After the Masters I'll start using the short putter a lot more regularly."

Els played in the Asian Tour's Chiangmai Golf Classic in Thailand at the end of March, and used a short putter for the first three rounds before switching back to the long putter on the final day.

Els said he put the long putter back in his bag just to feel the pressure of tournament play for the last round with the club before the Masters.

Els missed out on qualifying for the Masters in 2012 after his world ranking had dropped out the top 50, after he had played the previous 18 editions in a row dating back to 1994.

"I don't know if this year's Masters feels extra special having missed it last year? Perhaps a little bit," Els said.

"It definitely feels good to be back though. I'm not upset about what happened last year. I'm just excited like any other player to be here again - this is my 19th career appearance - and like any other player I want to have some game and feel like I have a chance to compete and win."

As a former world-number-one the 43-year-old has an excellent record in Major championships, and in particular The Masters.

Most notably, Els finished second to American Phil Mickleson in 2004 and to Fijian Vijay Singh in 2000.

"My record in the majors over the last 20 years is pretty good and in the Masters I've finished second twice and had a bunch of top-10s.

"Looking back I maybe should have won this tournament, but obviously it hasn't happened and since 2004 this beautiful place hasn't been good for me."

Els said he would come back to Augusta with a different frame of mind.

"I think mentally I was putting too much pressure on myself to win this thing, not just in the tournament but in the build-up, too.

"This year I definitely sense in myself a slightly different, more relaxed mindset."

The event in Thailand helped Els to improve his mood heading to the media frenzy of The Masters.

"Playing in the Chiangmai Golf Classic in Thailand a couple of weeks before Augusta was a good move.

"It removed me somewhat from the hype of pre-Masters time and I also felt like I was doing my bit to help spread the game into new territories."

Els was optimistic about his chances at Augusta.

"My game's been slow to take off this season, but in recent weeks there have been signs that it is gathering momentum.

"Augusta is the ultimate test of your game, so I know that I have to step it up. I'm excited about the challenge." – Sapa



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