Paramus: Ernie Els is the man to catch when the US PGA playoffs begin Thursday at The Barclays, but the South African star will have to shine in the next month to take advantage of his season`s work.
Els leads the year`s points chase that will decide the 2010 season champion and a 10 million-dollar top prize following next month`s Tour Championship, but with point values higher for playoff events, his work is far from over.
"I had a good start to my season, won two tournaments in March and a couple of top-5s and I had the right people win different tournaments for me to stay on top, so I`m in pretty fortunate position where I am right now," Els said.
"Totally different ball game the next four weeks. So it`s very important for me to play well. But for me to keep a lead or enhance my lead, I need to play really well this week. I`m in a good position to do that so I`d like to do it."
Els feels far from a target simply because there are three elimination events to decide the 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship and only then will the leader hold an inside edge to the title.
"I don`t feel like it yet, because I think there`s so many points available and there are so many guys that can make moves," Els said.
"I think by the Tour championship, you can feel like maybe guys are coming after you. I think more than anything, we`re hunting points. And that`s what we`re here for. Any way to get a lot of points is to play good golf."
"I can go backwards very quickly if I don`t play good golf."
Players must stand among the top 100 in points after Sunday to reach next week`s event in Boston and must crack the top 60 to reach Chicago, where the 30-man field for the Tour Championship in Atlanta is decided.
World number one Tiger Woods, still searching for his first title of the year, stands 112th on the points list. He must finish in a range between 50th or 57th depending on how rivals perform in order to reach next week`s event.
"I`m still working on some things," Woods said. "I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at the shape of shots I was able to hit."
Woods was surprised at how long the course played after overnight rain.
"Everyone said it was going to be a pretty tricky course," Woods said. "With the greens this soft, it will be interesting to see how they set it up."
World number two Phil Mickelson, who has missed chances in recent weeks to pass Woods and claim the top spot for the first time, likes his chances this week.
"I feel like my game`s actually in pretty good shape," Mickelson said. "It would be pretty cool (to be No. 1). I`ve been trying real hard to accomplish that. I just haven`t played well enough yet. Hopefully I`ll be able to put it together this week."
Els and other leaders received a boost when US veteran Jim Furyk, third in points, overslept and missed the pro-am to earn a disqualification from the Barclays. He has enough points to safely reach next week but will stumble back.
"It was a bit of a shock," Els said. "It was very unfortunate. Jim is the ultimate professional. But unfortunately we have rules. He must be very disappointed because he`s played some great golf."
Mickelson ripped the rule mandating pro-am appearances that bit Furyk.
"I cannot disagree with it more," Mickelson said. "I have no idea how the commissioner let this rule go through. It`s ridiculous."