PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL – Ernie Els, the 2008 Honda Classic champion whose improbable victory in the 2012 British Open was one of the greatest stories of the year in golf, has joined the early commitment list for the 2013 Honda Classic, which will be played February 25 - March 3 at PGA National Resort & Spa.
Els joins defending champion and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, current No. 7 ranked Lee Westwood, and 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell as prominent early entries into The Honda.
The British Open victory was a message from Els not to count him out even if he is now at age 43. His performance under major pressure reinvigorated his attitude and career, inspiring Els to craft an aggressive worldwide schedule in 2013.
"Were you just being nice to me," he asked the crowd at Royal Lytham. "Or did you actually believe that I could win?"
Truth is that Adam Scott had what seemed an insurmountable four-stroke lead with four holes to play in The British and it had been a decade since Els won a Major. But Scott struggled on his way home and Els snaked in a birdie putt on the 18th hole and just like that, before anybody had realized what happened, Els was hoisting the Claret Jug in celebration of his fourth victory in a Major.
Els became only the sixth player to win both the U.S. Open and the British Open at least twice each.
A big reason that Els was able to do it again, and will have a chance every time he tees it up in 2013 as well, is because he got back to believing in himself.
It took hitting almost rock bottom for that to happen. Having fallen out of the top 50 in the world early last year, Els played non-stop in the spring to try to boost his world ranking and earn a Masters bid.
But it did not happen. Els missed a pair of short putts down the stretch in Tampa, blowing both the lead and an automatic invitation to Augusta National. He missed the Masters for the first time in nearly two decades.
"Obviously, I wasn't happy about missing the Masters, but I was working my butt off for myself, trying to get my game back to where I wanted it to be," Els said. "I wanted to feel like I could win again. That's what I missed more than anything.
"I had a sniff of a win in the US Open and then you come to the [British] Open, the favorite tournament of the year for me and on a golf course that I've always played well on, then obviously you've got to like your chances. I had gotten my self-belief back."
With the British Open victory, Els secured a five-year exemption into the majors and enters 2013 with a piece of mind he didn't have a year ago.
He began the year with an 18th place finish at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa and a tie for 39th in Abu Dhabi. He is playing at the Qatar Masters this week and will head back to the States for his PGA TOUR debut in two weeks at the Northern Trust Open.
"It's a long season, there are a lot of great tournaments to play for, and I want to be 100 per cent ready for all of them," Els said. "I've got a great schedule, quite a full schedule, actually, a lot of golf.
"Last year, winning The Open, it's opening doors for me again. It's a dream come true, and we've got some really nice things ahead of us now. I'm 43, I'll be 44 this year; it's nice to know that you can play in all of the big events."
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