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Two errant swings cost Ernie Els several crucial shots on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Two errant swings cost Ernie Els several crucial shots on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Two strong Sunday nines, Els says, and he'll be happy

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Ernie Els could kick himself for that triple-bogey 8 on the sixth hole Saturday. But the Big Easy was pleased to have played his final 12 holes in 5 under par, and believes that a big Sunday could give him a real chance at a second Open title.

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Ernie Els isn't greedy.

Sure, all but 14 of the 70 players who survived the cut at the 136th Open Championship made either birdie or par at the 578-yard sixth hole at Carnoustie on Saturday. Els would have taken a bogey, though -- just not that darn 8 he came up with after hitting his tee shot out of bounds.

"If I could just have that one swing over on No. 6," the Big Easy said wistfully. "I'll take 6 right now, but 8, it's hard to come back from ... "

Still, he did. Els shook off the disappointment, got back on track with a birdie at No. 8 and played his final 12 holes in 5 under par. The affable South African's round of 68 Saturday left him tied for third at 3 under, six strokes behind the leader, Sergio Garcia.

"I played really well on the back nine, obviously," Els said. "Actually, I played well all day except for two swings."

The first was that cut shot Els hit off the sixth tee. Compounding the situation, he found a fairway bunker and a greenside bunker along the way, then two-putted from 5 feet for the triple. But it all started with that errant tee shot.

"I was trying to cut it into the breeze and that was the wrong choice of shot," Els said. "I should have just rode the wind and if it goes right, it goes in the bunker. You can still make 5 at least. But I was trying to cut it, trying to be cute and it was the wrong shot.

"I got quick and it was a bad, bad shot. Not a good feeling."

Neither was the hard 7-iron he hit to the 18th green. Well, almost to the 18th green -- "it was a good lay-up," he said with a wry smile. But at least Els managed to finish with a par there, and he matched playing partner Paul Broadhurst's homeward 31.

"I strung some good shots together on the back nine and made some putts," Els said. "All in all I'm really happy with the round after that."

The 2002 Open Championship winner figures he'll probably need two more nines like that to overtake Garcia, who is playing with considerable poise and confidence this week. Els, who has also won two U.S. Opens, remembers the feeling.

"It seems like Sergio is going really solid, but he's going for his first major and I'm sure there's going to be a lot going through his mind tonight," he said. "I remember when I was trying to win my first one. But you can't hope for him to play bad.

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"You have to try to get something going tomorrow and I've got to do that tomorrow and hope for a little more breeze just to test the leaders."

The rains that had been dominating the forecast finally came in with a vengeance Saturday night. Els called the conditions that produced more receptive greens "scoring weather" and estimated the wind at a one-club breeze.

"There will be some tough conditions tomorrow," he said. "It's kind of in (Sergio's) hands now. But there's a lot of guys chasing. It's a major, so there's a lot that can still happen. But Sergio is in a great position."

Els is playing well of late, though. He tied for seventh at the BMW International Open and was solo third last week at Loch Lomond when he closed with a 65 at the Barclays Scottish Open.

"I've got to think about that tomorrow," Els said. "Last week I was six behind coming into the final round and almost got there. I've got to do the same tomorrow. I've got to try and emulate that round tomorrow.

"It's a different golf course, but at least I showed myself -- after that 8, I played 5 under par coming in so I'm going to play that kind of golf tomorrow."

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