/ 14 June 2008

Strong finish gives Big Easy reason to smile

Twice champion Ernie Els had a smile on his face after a birdie-birdie finish to Friday’s second round kept him in the title hunt for the US Open.

The smooth-swinging South African recovered from a scrappy patch around the turn to card a one-over-par 72 on the monster South Course at Torrey Pines.

”Mentally I’m good, mentally I’m really up for it,” Els told reporters of his bid for a fourth major title after finishing the day three strokes behind leader Stuart Appleby of Australia with an even-par total of 142.

”I’ve got no problem getting myself motivated. I had a couple of swing faults there on the back [nine] that I rectified and really made some good, aggressive swings coming in.

”It was nice to finish with two birdies and I actually had a chance [for another] on 16,” added the world number four, who launched his round with a birdie three at the first before bogeying the second, seventh, 12th and 14th.

”Back to even par and in with a lot of guys, I’ll take that. It feels good. I feel a lot better now about tomorrow.”

Although Els has not won the US Open for more than a decade, he feels entirely at ease tackling the assorted challenges posed by the second major championship of the year.

”I have played well in US Opens before so I kind of know what to do mentally and what to expect,” said the South African, known as the ”Big Easy” and tournament champion at Oakmont in 1994 and at Congressional in 1997.

”This is basically experience and actually doing it, and this one is a lot more playable than the last two or three we’ve had so I feel quite comfortable on this golf course.”

This week’s venue, at 6 988m, is the longest layout to host a major but has earned respect from the entire field for the fairness of its set-up.

”You have an opportunity to hit driver on every hole if you want to,” said Els, who ended a PGA Tour victory drought of almost four years by winning the Honda Classic in early March.

”There’s enough room out there and if you’re going to just miss it [the fairway], you still have a 50/50 chance of getting it to the green.” – Reuters