Big Easy's style illuminates tortuous struggle

It was a day when Ernie Els fell out of the company of the Fabulous Four, at least it seemed for the duration of this 69th Masters, as he fought to beat the cut - by one stroke - and they bunched like assassins in the the long but maybe fragile footsteps of the runaway leader, Chris DiMarco.

It was a day when Ernie Els fell out of the company of the Fabulous Four, at least it seemed for the duration of this 69th Masters, as he fought to beat the cut - by one stroke - and they bunched like assassins in the the long but maybe fragile footsteps of the runaway leader, Chris DiMarco.

But then it was also a time touching golfing eternity - and that had nothing to do with the pecking order of today.

The passing agony of Els - he would no doubt be the first to concede - had to give way to Jack Nicklaus's announcement that, finally, he was going fishing. He played his last hole here yesterday, the ninth, came within an inch or two of a birdie, and then waved his last goodbye from inside the ropes of a course he had made his own.

"I'm not sure what the word proper really means," he said, "but I did want to say goodbye properly, and this year I decided I was going to hit my two favourite places, Augusta and St Andrews... I think I managed to do it here with rounds of 77 and 76, but I knew it was time to go. Playing this course with a bunch of fairway woods is not the way I really want to operate."

And then the great man was gone. Amid the turmoil behind was the travail of Els.

His swing once again might have been created by Michelangelo, but, of course, the Italian genius once smashed his chisel into one of his creations and demanded that it spoke to him. Will Els ever weigh his own talent and its end result and make a similar gesture of passion and frustration?

If it was going to happen it would surely have been here in Augusta - perhaps a year ago when, after playing the with daunting control and technique on the last day, he stood alone and chewed an apple and waited beside the practice green to see if Phil Mickelson, the man who some said was one of the game's ultimate chokers, could hold his nerve sufficiently to force a play-off.

Instead, in a passage of golf history written across the heart of Els, Mickelson won and became an instant American hero. Els had shot a perfect last-day 67 for nothing more than the pain of a fifth straight, narrow defeat.

"Yes, that was one of the hardest things I ever experienced," he recalled this week. "I just had to get out of town. It was just painful to be around." Emboldened by such a confession, it was deemed reasonable to ask if now he came here with a sense of hurt, of a denial of his rights - or, if you wanted to put it at its most basic, did this piece of Georgia owe him something?

"No, Augusta doesn't owe me anything, but something deep down inside me might say yes and no to that question. Yes, I think I have played well enough here to win something, but then in the end you always have to turn it on yourself. You have to say, well, I did my best and for one reason or another it didn't happen. What is the answer? It's to keep playing as well as you can... If you believe in yourself enough, you have to think that one day it is going to happen."

But then yesterday Augusta seemed to be turning away from him once again, wiping out the sense of a man picking up his feet to join the rivals in whose company he was supposed to dominate this tournament: Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Mickelson. Here again we had the desperate suspicion of a perfect game hauntingly flawed. But by what? A certain failure of imagination or desire? No, he tells you, he knows how to hurt.

Might he yet just force himself into the most serious action? Before going out, he said that his confidence had not been battered by defeat last spring, and the play-off defeat by Todd Hamilton in the Open. "I have won my majors and I expect to win some more," Els said. "You come to Augusta with excitement - not weighed down by things that have gone wrong. Losing is not the worst thing if you believe you have played well, if you haven't neglected anything in your preparation."

Of course, if you make what you do look like something that wells from your nature so easily you might be opening a newspaper, expectations tend to run high and relentlessly so. If watching Els gives you a sense that all is right with the world, that there is a way to go through the most demanding challenges of life as if you are taking a stroll down a country lane, there perhaps should be a requirement to look a little deeper.

One original theory is that in a way Els did put his name on two majors last year - when he played with his countryman Retief Goosen in the final round of the US Open and then partnered Hamilton, another winner, in the last 36 holes of the Open.

The fancy was that Els was such a calming influence on both men, the rhythm of his game so soothing and persuasive, that their own inhibitions fell away. They had fallen under the spell of Big Easy.

It is an intriguing idea, but not one to put to him yesterday as he wrestled with the question that he acknowledges readily enough. There is certainly a debt to be paid here at Augusta when the form and the results of Ernie Els are considered, but then who meets it: a grudging course or perhaps the finest stylist golf has ever seen? It is something that, poignantly, may not be settled for some time. If ever.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral