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Ernie Els rediscovering touch at Masters

Ernie Els chips onto the second green during Friday’s second round of the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Els shot an even-par 72 to remain 5 under after 36 holes.
Ernie Els chips onto the second green during Friday’s second round of the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Els shot an even-par 72 to remain 5 under after 36 holes. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It’s unlikely that Ernie Els will track down leader Jordan Spieth at the Masters. That’s a task that only Charley Hoffman, who is alone in second place and five strokes behind Spieth, appears capable of handling.

Els shot an even-par 72 Friday and, after an opening-round 67 Thursday that had him just three shots behind Spieth, is nine shots behind entering the weekend.

Regardless of his fading chances – which says as much about Spieth as it does anybody else in the field, including Els -- this Masters has been somewhat of a rebirth for Els, 45. He’s never won at Augusta National, although he came close in 2004, when he was poised on Sunday to face Mickelson in a playoff before Mickelson birdied the 18th to win.

Mickelson’s victory did some significant psychological damage to Els, who has won 19 tournaments on the PGA Tour, as well as two U.S. Opens and two British Opens. But he’s come up short at Augusta, especially during a stretch of his prime when he finished in the top six five consecutive years.

“Definitely,” Els said. “I was trying to wipe it under the carpet that I wanted (the Masters) so badly for so many years. There was something going on.

“You kind of get fed up with yourself. Never with Augusta, but yourself with the mistakes you make. I kind of felt that I left shots out there in that five-six year span. So a little frustration set in.”

Els was within shouting distance of Spieth after Thursday’s first round, but dropped six strokes further behind Friday. He said he holds out hope from the recent memory of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he shot a 67 on Friday and a 68 on Sunday to finish tied for 13th.

“(Spieth) is obviously playing great golf,” said Els. “I don’t want to wish anything bad, but if he takes his foot off the gas (he can give) you a bit of hope to catching him. I shot (67 and 68 two weeks ago). Let’s see where that takes me. That’s about as good as a man can do.”

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