Ernie Els, of South Africa, hits a drive on the 14th hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 17, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Despite being unable to claim his third US Open title, Ernie Els produced a credible ninth place finish on four-over par, just three strokes adrift of American winner Webb Simpson.

Els closed with a final round two-over par for a 284 total for the week at the Olympic Club, San Francisco, in California amid tough scoring conditions.

After not qualifying for The Masters in April, Els showed how his game had improved and posed a challenge for most of the final round, before bogies on two of his final three holes.

The Big Easy began his round by navigating the infamously difficult opening six holes at Olympic in one-over par, while overnight leaders American Jim Furyk and Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, in particular, struggled.

Els got back to one over par for the tournament with a stunning eagle on the short par-four seventh, as he sounded a warning to the field.

The 42-year-old, however, had a bad break on the par-three eighth hole which proved to be the turning point in his round.

Hitting his seven-iron tee-shot into the green 180 metres away, his ball pitched just short of the green. The shot did not stay up near the green, but instead the ball began to roll cruelly down a slope to end 30 metres short of the putting surface. Facing an almost 60 metre pitch shot for his second, Els was unable to get the ball up-and-down, and it killed his momentum.

Another bogey on nine followed, before making a birdie three at the 12th, but his finish on the closing holes meant he had to settle for a top ten position.

Fellow veteran countryman, Retief Goosen ended a shot behind Els, as The Goose finished five over for the event, courtesy of a closing 71 in a tie for tenth.

Other South Africans who made the cut included Charl Schwartzel on ten-over for the week, sharing 38th place, while Branden Grace was in a tie for 51st.

Schwartzel confirmed he was battling a rib injury but opted to play the final round. He will now take a break with his next start likely to be the British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in mid-July. – Sapa