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Round changes Els' mind

Under-par finish puts end to talk of Augusta farewell

Monday, April 12, 2010

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Leaving the 18th green after sinking a 10-footer for birdie, Ernie Els heard a patrol yell to him.

Ernie Els helps move the gallery back from his ball on the seventh hole, where he made par. Els was 1-over on the front nine and had four birdies after the turn, finishing the Masters at 1-under. (Michael Holahan/Staff)

"Way to finish, Ernie," the man hollered.

The Big Easy smiled and gave a thumbs-up. After what had been a disappointing Masters Tournament for the South African, he could use those words of encouragement.

To hear Els tell it, he had considered making Sunday's final round truly his final round at Augusta National Golf Club. His 4-under-par 68 put him in red numbers at the end of his 17th Masters, though, making him reconsider his plans.

"I need something to bring me back, and I think that might bring me back for next year," Els said. "I wasn't really in the mood to play this course ever again (Saturday), but I got a little better look at it today."

His quest for a green jacket has become almost Ahab-like, as he appears closer each year to joining Greg Norman as the golfer who has suffered the most heartache at Augusta National. He has been a runner-up twice, the last time in 2004 when Phil Mickelson put a dagger in his heart with a winning birdie on the last hole.

Els came into this year's Masters as the hottest golfer after Fred Couples. He appeared on his way to competing for his first green jacket in Thursday's first round, getting to 3-under through 17 holes. A double bogey on No. 18 started a descent from which he couldn't recover, however.

He got his score back to 2-under on Friday, but another double bogey, this time on the par-5 15th, ended any thoughts of winning this year.

"That basically cost me, and (Saturday) I wasn't in a great mood," Els said.

Four birdies over his final seven holes Sunday, however, helped banish some of those dark thoughts and gave Els reason to return to Augusta to bag his whale.

"I may have played a little defensively here and played a couple of silly shots the first three days, and today I played my game plan and stuck with it," he said. "That's the way I need to play."

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or mike.wynn@augustachronicle.com.

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