Masters 2015: It's par for the course as inconsistent Ernie Els walks just to stand still

It's rotten luck. Els gets his name on the board, sees the back of Woods and along comes Spieth

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The Independent Online

Ernie Els peels a banana better than anyone in the adult entertainment industry. Well, almost. He does it so smoothly and effortlessly. The skin is removed along its seams to reveal the fruity power snack with no fuss, no mess and no bother. It’s the fruit-preparation version of his golf swing.

The South African hates his Big Easy moniker because he says there is nothing easy about playing golf. He can’t help it if he just makes it look so. The 45-year-old began the second round at five under par, just three shots behind 21-year-old leader and new poster boy of American golf, Jordan Spieth. After a par at the first he made his first birdie of the day at the par-five second.

He has spent two days in the company of fellow major champions Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson – a threeball put together by someone with a sense of humour. All three have battled the yips and dabbled in the dark art of the broomhandle and the belly putter, and there won’t be a more contrasting style of swings in any group at the 79th Masters.

Johnson shoots fast and whippy like he’s in a hurry to catch a train. Els hits through the ball with the grace and balance of an Olympic rower. There’s power and movement but you can’t tell where it’s coming from. He could play gold in a library. Furyk, on the other hand, hurls his club around his head, wafts it like he’s fending off a swarm of bees, then lunges at the ball and somehow manages not to fall over. All three of them have one thing in common: they are multi-millionaires.

 

There is another reason why Els doesn’t like being called the Big Easy. He knows he sometimes has a short fuse when the golfing demons tweak him. He’s had his collywobbles over the years with tiddlers. Getting the ball in the hole has sometimes proved rather more challenging for Els than getting the ball towards the hole.

Sometimes he’s the Big Queasy. Sometimes his caddie gets the death stare. Like on the fourth when Els’ iron to the par three flew through the green. Yardage books were consulted, maths was checked, heads were shaken, eyebrows were raised, caddie was scolded.

Els went through the green again at the fifth. Bogey this time. At the par-three sixth, he sent his birdie putt trundling 10 feet past the hole. As his return putt headed towards the hole to try to save par, Els raised his finger like a cricket umpire. Verdict: ball in, not out, par saved.

The seventh hole was a shambles. Els’ approach to the green came up short, he chipped by the hole and missed the par putt – bogey. Johnson took two swipes to escape from a bunker – double bogey. Furyk three-putted – bogey. Silence from the galleries. Funeral procession to the eighth tee.

But two biffs, a bump and run chip and a tiny putt later, and Els was back to five under par with a birdie. A huge cheer punctured the stratosphere.

Tiger Woods had just birdied the first just alongside Els on the eighth. If it weren’t for Tiger, Els would have won a lot more majors than his two US Opens in 1994 and 1997 and two Open Championships in 2002 and 2012. He would have won a Green Jacket, too, in 2004 if it weren’t for Phil Mickelson’s birdie and star jump on the final hole. That ended a run of five years never being out of the top six. He’s only just got over the hangover.

Woods1.jpg
Spieth plays his approach shot to the second at Augusta

Els is desperate to win the Masters but probably thought his time had come and gone after 20 years of trying – six top-10 finishes, runner-up twice but missing the cut four times in the last seven years. And yet here he was on the leaderboard again. But he was trading four birdies with four bogeys – powering his way to gaining shots at all of the par fives but ultimately walking to stand still. A second-round par 72 to remain five under.

What rotten luck for Els at Augusta again. He gets his name on the giant Masters leaderboard again, finally sees the back of Woods and along comes Spieth. But Els is not bitter.

“This game will drive you crazy. Just ask me,” Els said. “You just cannot see this kid not win many, many majors. He’s really got a fighting spirit, and he’s the nicest kid in the world. He’s special.”

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