Els quietly confident ahead of US Open

Ernie Els had to endure a 10-year wait to claim his fourth major title, but heis quietly confident of winning a fifth just 11 months after his Open triumph.

Ernie Els, Golf

Els won the US Open in 1994 and 1997 and then the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002, but it was not until a decade later that he was able to lift the Claret Jug for a second time at Royal Lytham last year.

Aged 42 at the time, Els' victory might have been seen as something of a swansong as his career began to wind down, especially given the manner of the win with Adam Scott squandering a four-shot lead with four holes to play.

However, it should not be forgotten that Els had also finished ninth in the US Open in San Francisco just a month earlier, a closing round of 72, two over par, leaving him three shots behind winner Webb Simpson.

"That was another disappointing (US Open) finish," Els told Press Association Sport. "Even in 2010 with Graeme McDowell winning I felt really good there (he finished third). That was where my putting problems started on those bloody greens at Pebble Beach.

"Last year I was closer than ninth would suggest, I really had a chance. But I didn't take it as a negative, I took it as a positive because I really felt that under pressure my putting was standing up and my game was starting to stand up.

"So I went into the Open at Lytham with a bit more hope and we know what happened there. Now I am looking forward to this US Open and I definitely feel I can be in contention at Merion."

That confidence comes from his game clicking into gear during the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where a closing 67 lifted him into a tie for sixth, just two shots out of the play-off.

And Els believes his own redesign of Wentworth has turned it into the ideal warm-up for the tough test set to be posed by Merion, which is short by modern standards (6,996 yards) but will have penal rough, narrow fairways and - weather permitting - hard, fast greens.

"I needed something like this," Els said. "This (Wentworth) is a test now and these are the kinds of test that are laying ahead of us in the near future.

"It's a good one to test your game to see where you really are, because if you are off you will be penalised. I had been going through the notebook, 24 different thoughts, and I think I found something in the final round and hung onto that and it started paying off."

Els practised at Merion last week to see for himself the par threes which Justin Rose's caddy had told him were "a little bit off."

At 115 yards, the 13th is one of the shortest holes the players will ever face, but the other par three's measure 256, 236 and 246 yards, with the 246-yard 17th followed by a 521-yard par-four 18th.

Former champion Graeme McDowell summed up the course on Twitter, writing: "First 6 holes are tricky, middle 7 you can score from the fairway, last 5 are brutal."

Torrential rain which almost flooded the 11th green on Friday may have made conditions a little easier, but a dry few days before Thursday's opening round could well make McDowell's description seem highly accurate.



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