Ernie's Final Rounds

I skimmed this week's columns on Ernie Els's final round difficulties. Chris Lewis links them here with some of his own thoughts.

Well apparently a closer read of the pieces got John Huggan worked up because he thinks Ernie lost his edge in 2004.

Then again, it has been easy for Els' growing band of critics – most of whom seem to be located in the United States – to portray his lofty ambition as mere bravado, designed to deflect attention from the fact that Tiger 'owns' Ernie when it comes to competing late on Sunday afternoons. Ever since 1998, when Woods made up a yawning seven-shot deficit over the closing nine holes before beating Els in a play-off for the Johnnie Walker Classic, the world's best golfer has not yielded once to the man who – it says here – is still the second most talented player in the professional game.

There were, for example, the US Open and Open of 2000. Both were comfortably won by Woods and both times Els was the distant runner-up, a man who could easily be forgiven the thought, "I can't beat this guy".

But, despite the pile of pompous psychobabble spouted by various columnists over the last week or so, it is not Tiger who has cut deepest into Els' confidence over the last few years. In truth, the 24-time European Tour winner has not looked quite the same golfer since 2004, when he suffered two crushing blows at the very highest level. First, Phil Mickelson birdied the final hole to pip Els to the Masters at Augusta. Then, three months later, the unlikely Todd Hamilton took him out in a four-hole play-off for the Open at Royal Troon.

Look closely at the photographs of Els in the immediate aftermath of both defeats. On the practice green at Augusta and on the 18th green at Troon he has the same glassy-eyed gaze into the middle distance. Each time, he seems to be saying to his suddenly disembodied self, "I can't believe this".