ERNIE Els came tantalisingly close to winning a third US Open on Sunday. He lost out by just three shots. But crucially, as he himself said, “I’ve got my self belief back”, and that is massive for the former world No 1 who has for a couple of years been plagued by self-doubt.

If it wasn’t for a bogey-par-bogey finish at holes 16, 17 and 18 (par-5, par-5, par-4), where the golfers look to pick up a shot or two, he might have won it, or at least got himself into a play-off with eventual winner Webb Simpson. He ended up tied ninth, just three behind the champion.

“I was disappointed to have let slip a chance to win my third US Open, but having had a night to sleep on it I can reflect more clearly on the positive aspects of my performance,” Els wrote on his website this week.

“My mental attitude was good all week and I played really well on a very tough golf course. I had a couple of train wrecks out there, on holes four (double-bogey) and 16, and ultimately I guess they cost me the tournament. I’m contending again, though, and that means a lot. I feel I’ve got my belief back,” added Els.

“Of course, golf is always about ifs and buts and everyone has their story to tell. I have to say though, apart from those two holes that I just mentioned, I played the rest in four-under par for the week. That’s a measure of how strong my game is right now.”

What Els omitted to mention is that he was, in fact, number one in putting stats for the week, and putting has been a part of his game that has let him down in the relatively lean times he has endured in the last two or three years.

“Saturday is always moving day in any tournament, although in the US Open if you shoot level par you’re moving! It’s that kind of week. Walking to the sixth tee in my third round I was three-over par (for the round) and some way out of contention, so to come back strongly and play the last 12 holes in five-under was amazing. And the shot I holed on 17 for an eagle-three was very special. That type of moment in a Major is what dreams are made of. More importantly, a score of 68 helped put me in great shape going into the final round, just three behind the leaders.

“I was really excited about my chances on Sunday. And when I made that eagle-putt on the seventh hole (a short par-4 where he drove the green and rolled in a 15-footer for a two), I was right in it. Okay, I lost momentum on the next couple of holes with successive bogeys but I was a bit unlucky. Yet I bounced back with a birdie at 12 and was in the hunt until those last three holes. In the end I was disappointed but I’m not going to beat myself up about it, because when I look at where I was this time last year and where I am now it’s a huge change for the better. I feel like I’ve got my belief back and that’s a really good sign.

“We’ve got two more Majors left this year and I’m very much looking forward to them, especially the (British) Open at (Royal) Lytham (next month) where I’ve played well before.”