Els greatly disappointed

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Of all the big guns who missed out at the US Open on Sunday, Ernie Els was possibly the most disappointed.

Of all the big guns who came close to winning the US Open on Sunday, Ernie Els was possibly the most disappointed at missing the opportunity.

After sharing the lead with eventual winner Graeme McDowell at 3-under midway through the final round and then leading on his own at 4-under, the big South African slipped away on the closing stretch to end up in third place behind unheralded Frenchman Gregory Hacret, consoled only, perhaps, by the fact that he had held off the World’s Nos 1 and 2, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who finished behind him in a tie for fourth

Els, who has won the US Open twice and The Open once, and was bidding for his first Major title in eight years, signed off with a two-over-par 73 to finish two strokes behind surprise winner Graeme McDowell of Britain, and clearly wondering about what might have been.

Els, a normally amiable character who not for nothing has been called the ‘Big Easy’, underlined his great disappointment afterwards when he was the only one of the leading players who refused to speak to the media.

“Any time you have a chance to win a Major and don’t, it’s obviously a huge let-down,” the 40-year-old Els wrote on his website on Monday.

“I knew what I had to do. I needed to play a good round of golf, make some birdies early on and then try to have a solid finish.”

Els’ plan worked well going to the turn, with birdies coming at the second, fourth and sixth, the last of them via a tap-in after he had narrowly missed an eagle attempt from eight feet.

He then, after he bogeyed the difficult par-four ninth, having been short of the green with his approach, the wheels started to come off.

After turning on 33, Els pushed his tee shot at the 10th into long grass on the ocean cliffs on the way to a double-bogey six before limping home in four-over 40.

“I hit a couple of loose shots, but there were also crucial moments where I hit good shots and just didn’t get the breaks that I needed,” Els said.

“A couple of bounces here and there and it could have been a different story. I had some chances coming down the stretch, but I wasn’t able to convert.”

All this came after Els, one of the game’s most experienced exponents of links-course golf, had arrived at Pebble Beach boosted by two US PGA Tour victories this season.

“I’ll just have to stay patient, keep working hard and more opportunities will come my way,” Els says, speaking optimistically on his website.

“There were a lot of positives for me at Pebble Beach.

“I hit the ball nicely for pretty much the whole week and felt comfortable right there in the mix on Sunday afternoon. Right now I feel like I can win any time I tee it up.”

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