Els heads SA's US Open hopes

Ernie Els (AFP)
Ernie Els (AFP)

Cape Town - Ernie Els says he is ready to challenge for top honours when the US Open starts at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.

The Big Easy played in the Memorial PGA Tour event earlier this month and finished down the field in 37th position after failing to break 70 in any of the four rounds.

His decision to tinker with the short putter was part of the reason for his struggles, Els explained this week, giving him less time to work on his long game.

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"I've been working with the shorter putter again. It took a little focus away from what I want to do," said the 43-year-old South African.

"And my ball-striking for some reason this year hasn't been as sharp, so I've put a bit more work in on that front the last week."

Els, however, was confident he was ready to peak at the right time.

"All aspects start clicking, then you can start thinking about winning. And I feel that time is coming right now."

A two-time US Open champion, who picked up victories in 1994 and 1997, Els was looking to join Tiger Woods as the only active player on the PGA Tour with three wins in the historic event.

He believed the key to good scores around the relatively short 6 996-yard layout would be strong iron play.

"Normally we play in firmer conditions. If you just pull a six-iron, say at a regular tour event, the greens are soft and the ball will stop," Els said.

"Normally at Majors, when you pull that six-iron, if you don't quite hit it 95 percent, you're going to be playing out of the rough. Your next shot will be out of the rough.

"Those are the margins in Major championships, but iron play has always been a favourite part of the game for me, luckily for me."

However, with heavy rains in the lead up to the tournament, and more rain predicted throughout the four days, Els expected the course to play a little differently.

"This week it's going to be a little bit different, with conditions being a little softer.

"Guys are going to be hitting more greens and having more opportunity to putt."

The other South Africans in the field are Rory Sabbatini, George Coetzee, Louis Oosthuizen, Tim Clark, Charl Schwartzel, Jaco van Zyl and Branden Grace.

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