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March 24 2012

11:14 PM

Els happy with game as he chases invite

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By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

ORLANDO -- So here's the deal.

Ernie Els needs to finish solo third or better on Sunday at Bay Hill to have a chance to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. And if he does, Els gets the invite to the Masters he's been chasing for the last few weeks.

Solo second and he's definitely in the top 50, according to OWGR projections. A tie for second and or solo third and Els is probable to crack golf's glass ceiling -- but what happens Sunday at the European Tour event in Morocco could have an impact, too.

Els, though, isn't worried about projections in a state known for hanging chads. He wants to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the third time, and if he does, everything takes care of itself.

"I haven't had a look (at the numbers) to be honest," Els said. "I know I've ... got to almost win or something like that. But if I'm in, I'm in and if I'm not, I'm just glad my game is coming around. 

"Whatever happens, I feel like I can have a good year now. I feel like the hard work is starting to pay off."

Els had a chance to take care of business last week at the Transitions Championship. But he bogeyed the last two holes on Sunday, missing a measly but pressure-packed 4-footer at No. 18, and ended up one stroke out of the playoff that Luke Donald won.

Els, whose last victory ironically came at Bay Hill in 2010, played his way into the penultimate group on Sunday with a third-round 67 that included birdies on two of his last three holes. He'll be playing with Ian Poulter, who is also at 8 under, as they chase Tiger Woods three strokes ahead.

"This is what I needed," the affable South African said. "I need to get back on that horse as quickly as possible. I'm back on it, working hard on my putting and my game. Feels like my game is right there. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow and come what may, I'm going to try hard."

Els' putter, which has been his Achilles heel, is finally starting to cooperate. The World Golf Hall of Famer ranks first in distance of putts made, third in strokes gained putting and sixth in total putts this week.

But an adjustment Els made in his swing after the second round may turn out to be the key. He hit 11 of 14 fairways on Saturday after finding just six in the second round and eight on opening day.

"Yesterday I wasn't on," Els said. "I watched a bit of television last night and I saw I was aiming way right and I was coming in from the inside and trying to sneak it back in. So that was good to see that. And this morning, I hit golf balls even at Lake Nona and got my alignment figured out and I felt great. ...
   
"So I'll work on that and get it even more tuned in for tomorrow."

To slide into the top 50 would be a bonus -- and to win his way into the field Augusta National on this Sunday, or the next, would be even better. Regardless, though, Els is excited about the way he’s playing and eager to see how the year unfolds.

"Whether I play in Augusta or not, you know, I'm pretty happy where I am now," Els said. "I've been through the mill ... for the last 18 months in this game. And just to feel like it's coming around is really a gratifying feeling."

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