A brilliant back-9 from Ernie Els on Saturday has revived the South African’s week leading into the final round of the 2018 Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways.
Els dropped back to 1-under for the tournament after consecutive bogeys on the 7th and 8th holes on Saturday, at the time leaving him eight shots in arrears of New Zealand’s Ben Campbell.
But the four-time major champ didn’t drop his head, instead rattling off four birdies in his final 10 holes to post a 3-under 69, his best score of the week, lifting him to a 5-under total as those on course continued to battle the increasing winds.
“Conditions were a little bit tougher than yesterday obviously, but I still made a bit of a mess on the front-9. I made two very soft bogeys,” Els told the media after signing his card.
“I’ll be quite far behind, but I’ll at least be within sniffing distance.”
Els will tee off tomorrow morning just three shots back of outright leader Gaganjeet Bhullar of India, with a pack of four Australians at 7-under and overnight Ben Campbell (77) alone at 6-under.
Els has played Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course’s first nine in 4-over par this week, racking up eight bogeys on the front side through the first three days.
Compare that to just two bogeys on the layout’s back-9 – against nine birdies and an eagle – and it’s clear which side of the course needs most of Els’ attention on Sunday.
“I’ve just got to keep it together a bit more on the front-9,” said Els.
“The front-9, I think, has been playing a little bit tougher this week. Doing that, maybe I can make a little charge on the back nine tomorrow.”
Having already broken a run of eight straight missed cuts around the globe by making the weekend in Fiji, Els admits his game is starting to turn the corner.
But the Big Easy hasn’t cracked the top-10 in a professional tournament since June, 2016 – at the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National – another streak he’s eager to break with a big final round performance.
“There is a low score out there for me,” said Els.
“I’m starting to hit the ball nicely, starting to get a bit more confidence in the putter. The greens are running beautiful.
“So it’s there, if it really blows tomorrow, anything can happen. Par could be a great score. If it’s like this, I’ve got to get to 6-, 7-under par.
“But you can’t push too hard.”