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Ernie Els in striking distance of leaders in U.S. Open

By Marcus Thompson II, Contra Costa Times –

SAN FRANCISCO — Moving day for Ernie Els didn’t start so well. But by the time he finished his third round at the 112th U.S. Open, he couldn’t have been more pleased.

After losing three strokes over the treacherous first six holes at the Olympic Club, Els shot under par on four of the last 12 to move up the leader board Saturday. He’s in the mix to win his fourth career major, and first since the 2002 British Open. Els also provided one of the highlights of the day when his pitch on No. 17 dropped in for an eagle.

Els, who won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997, finished 2 under Saturday. He enters the final round at 2 over, three strokes behind leaders Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk. Considering how his day began, Els said he was “really pleased” to finish the round tied for fourth.

“I’m in a much better mood than I was on the sixth tee,” said Els, who will be paired with Blake Adams on Sunday. “To come back and play the last 12 holes 5 under is quite amazing. And, obviously, the shot on 17 is what dreams are made of — a shot like that in the U.S. Open.”

He bogeyed the first hole and, after scratching out pars, bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5 to fall to 7 over for the tournament.

“I just played the first six horribly,” Els said. “I hit it all over the ballpark, and if you’re going to play that way, the course can be firm or soft, and you’re not going to score.”

Els said his comeback actually began at the sixth hole. After his driver off the tee found the bunker, Els salvaged par with what he called an “unbelievable shot” — a sand save with a 7-iron. It was a game-changer.

He birdied the seventh and eighth holes and also the 12th to get back to even for the day. The next four holes were about being patient and steady, surviving with pars. On the par-5 17th, after his approach shot landed right of the green, Els took a shot at the flag. Bingo.

Saturday’s was just his latest rebound of the weekend. Els has averted disaster several times now — a double bogey on the fourth and a triple bogey on the 16th Thursday, three straight bogeys Friday — using the resilience he’s developed over the years.

In four of his previous five tournaments, Els has failed to finish in the top 40, including two missed cuts. But Olympic seems to be geared to his seasoned game.

“I’ve had a couple of train wrecks out there,” Els said. “Experience helps around here. For some reason, I’m patient again this week. That’s been kind of my virtue in major championship golf, the ability to be patient and wait it out.”

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