SUNDAY TIMES - Phil Mickelson's Masters win still haunts Ernie Els
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Sunday Times Sport By Michael Vlismas, 2017-04-16 00:00:00.0

Phil Mickelson's Masters win still haunts Ernie Els

Ernie Els says the mental battle is often harder than the physical one.
Image: SAM GREENWOOD/GETTY IMAGES

Ernie Els sat in the far corner of the locker room at Augusta National Golf Club sipping on a bottle of water. His Masters was over. But a week of preparing himself for this moment didn't make it any easier to deal with.

"You wish you could just get it out of your mind rather than holding onto it," he said.

Els was referring to the way he finished the 81st Masters last in the field with rounds of 83 and 78 on the weekend. He could just as easily have been describing a career-long battle to win the one Major that still eludes him.

Els's best chances came from 2000 to 2004 when he finished no worse than sixth in the Masters. His defeat at the hands of Phil Mickelson in the 2004 Masters was perhaps the most damaging to his future challenges for a green jacket. That year, Mickelson birdied the final hole to beat Els. And "The Big Easy" was never the same when it came to Augusta National.

"For Phil to finish the way he did, that really stung me, and it still stings. I look back again to that round and I had two putts on 17 and 18 and it's amazing because I thought Phil would make a mistake on those two holes," he said. "But that's the thing that gets me as I just took the foot off the pedal a little bit on those last two holes. I just wasn't aggressive enough. That still hurts me to this day."

Els was only seven shots off the lead going into the weekend this year, which makes what happened over the next two rounds that much more frustrating.

When asked what he felt let him down the most this year, when he started solidly enough for us all to start believing in fairy tales again, Els pointed to his head.

"This thing. It's just unbelievable as I can be playing well and then all of a sudden and from out of nowhere I just seem to fall apart," said Els.

"Physically I am not too bad but the mental game is real bad. But who knows as I still have good feelings to still have one or two more good rounds here.

"I mean I could win a PGA to get back. But for 23 years I have played here and I want to look at that and say 'that was special'."

His trophy cabinet has enough Masters memorabilia to remind him of just how special it has been.