Pebble Beach: Of all the big-name players who failed to close out victory at the U.S. Open on Sunday after being ideally placed in the final round, Ernie Els was probably the most disappointed.
The double U.S. Open champion moved into a tie for the lead early on with three birdies in the first six holes at a breezy Pebble Beach but he lost momentum after the turn to slide back into third place.
Bidding for his first major title in eight years, South African Els signed off with a two-over-par 73 to finish two strokes behind surprise winner Graeme McDowell of Britain, no doubt wondering at what might have been.
Popularly known as the `Big Easy`, Els was the only one of the leading players who refused to speak to reporters at the end of the final round, underlining his bitter disappointment.
"Any time you have a chance to win a major and don`t, it`s obviously a huge let-down," the 40-year-old South African wrote on his website.
"I knew what I had to do. I needed to play a good round of golf, make some birdies early on and then try to have a solid finish."
Els achieved the first part of his plan with birdies at the second, fourth and sixth, the last of them a tap-in after he had narrowly missed an eagle attempt from eight feet.
He then bogeyed the difficult par-four ninth after ending up short of the green in two to reach the turn in two-under 33 before his round imploded.
The three-times major winner pushed his tee shot at the 10th into long grass on the ocean cliffs on the way to a double-bogey six before limping home in four-over 40.
"I hit a couple of loose shots, but there were also crucial moments where I hit good shots and just didn`t get the breaks that I needed," Els said.
"A couple of bounces here and there and it could have been a different story. I had some chances coming down the stretch, but I wasn`t able to convert."
All the signs had pointed toward a successful week for Els on a challenging U.S. Open layout with a links-course feel and he came closer than either world number one Tiger Woods or fan favourite Phil Mickelson in Sunday`s final round.
British Open champion in 2002, the big South African is one of the most experienced links-course practitioners in the game and he arrived at Pebble Beach boosted by two PGA Tour victories this season.
"I just have to stay patient, keep working hard and more opportunities will come my way," Els said. "There were a lot of positives for me at Pebble Beach."
"I hit the ball nicely for pretty much the whole week and felt comfortable right there in the mix on Sunday afternoon. Right now I feel like I can win any time I tee it up."