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"I'm so close at times and so far away from where I want to be at times," Ernie Els said Saturday at Southern Hills.

Els so close yet so far from regaining his major form

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Ernie Els is finally doing the good things again. Evidence his 14 birdies this week at Southern Hills. But the Big Easy can't seem to shake the bad holes that turn a great round into a merely good one. Like the double-bogey he made on No. 4 Saturday.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

TULSA, Okla. -- South Africa's Ernie Els is a fixture on major championship leaderboards, and this week's 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club is no exception.

After shooting a 1-under-par 69 in Saturday's third round, the man affectionately known as the Big Easy moved to 1-under-par 209 and will start the final round trailing world No. 1 Tiger Woods by six shots.

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While overcoming that deficit will surely be a daunting task -- Woods is 12-0 when leading a major after 54 holes -- Els said he can't have the mindset that it's over.

"I can't say that because I'm competing," he said. "And tomorrow is the final day. There are 18 holes of golf left to be played. The statistics will tell you, yes, it is over. But as a competitor, I can't sit there and tell you it's over. I can't ever do that. I've got to play the round of my life. We've all got to play the rounds of our lives, and he's got to have a couple of mistakes.

"He's unbelievably solid at the moment, as we all can see, and full of a lot of confidence. So as a competitor, I want to say no, you can't ever think it's over. So I need to shoot something unbelievable and he's got to make mistakes."

OK, but if Els were a fan, would he think it was over?

"How can I put it? Yeah," said a laughing Els. "If I was not a golfer, a fan on the couch, I'd be putting my house on him, yeah."

This PGA Championship marks the 61st major of Els' career. In the previous 60 he has finished in the top 10 an incredible 28 times, highlighted by three wins (the 1994 and '97 U.S. Opens, as well as the 2002 Open Championship).

In last month's Open Championship at Carnoustie, Els was a serious contender before finishing in a tie for fourth. He posted a 68 in the third round at Carnoustie despite having a triple-bogey 8 on his card. With hindsight being 20/20, a par on that hole would have meant a one-shot victory for Els and no playoff between Sergio Garcia and eventual winner Padraig Harrington.

"I am what I am. I can't change that," Els said. "Tiger, he's what he is, and he's not making the mistakes I'm making. And in a way that's frustrating, as I just mentioned. But in a way that's got to be a positive, too. If I can start eliminating these mistakes, I can start really challenging for tournaments again.

"And that's what I've got to keep working on. And at the moment it feels like it's just such a slow process for me. I feel I'm so close at times and so far away from where I want to be at times. So it's a bit, as I say, a battle with the game of golf at the moment. But I'm keeping my head down and I'm just trying to get myself through it, just play through it. And that's kind of what I'm trying to do."

Since suffering a knee injury suffered on a boating trip in 2005 shortly after the Open Championship, Els' A-game hasn't been nearly as consistent as it once was. His third round at Carnoustie, as with his third round here, was a microcosm of those struggles -- stringing together bunches of birdies, only to have a round go from outstanding to good because of a few bogeys or worse. This time around it was a double-bogey 6 at Southern Hills' 372-yard fourth hole.

"Somebody just mentioned to me that I've made 14 birdies this week and I'm 1 under par. So it means that I'm doing a lot of good things out there," Els said. "But the frustrating thing, which drives me nuts, is that I'm making soft mistakes, soft errors. A three-putt here or a bogey or a double from nowhere on No. 4, which is a short little par 4. That drives me crazy. And that's the frustrating part. But my swing has been pretty good. My putting stroke's not too bad. My whole game as a whole is pretty good. And it's been like that for a while. But for some reason, you know, the game is just kind of testing me at the moment."

Els did well to bounce back from the double, with birdies on three of his first four holes on the back nine to right the ship.

"Three birdies out of the first four holes on the back nine kind of salvaged my round a little bit," he said. "But I was actually looking for a nice low round today to try and get myself back into it. But I've got to be satisfied with the way I finished. I was well out of it. It's nice to get it back into red numbers."

Els admitted that he came a bit short of his target score for the third round and because of that, he'll have his work cut out for him on Sunday.

"I was trying to shoot 65 today," he said. "My goal over the weekend was to try to get to 10 under. But I've just got to shoot 61 tomorrow, that's all."

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