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2005 End of Year Review

After a huge comeback win last week, Ernie almost made it two in-a-row this week. Read about his latest tournament result as well as his thoughts on 2005 in the season-ending edition of On the Road with Ernie...

Solid 2nd at South African Airways Open

I've got to say, having shot 76 in the first round and been five-over par for the tournament after two holes in my second round, I was really pleased with how I came back in last week's South African Open. I improved my scores every day after the first round, shooting 70, 69, 68 - and on a golf course as tough as The Links at Fancourt, that says a lot for where my game is. It's a real confidence-booster after such a long layoff. Obviously, I'd have written a different script on those last two holes! But hey, I've got to take my hat off to Retief. We had a great battle out there. I mean, pretty much from the start it was a bit of a matchplay situation, going head-to-head. And that's always a lot of fun and, like I say, all credit to Retief. That was a hell of a chip-in on 17. I had my chance on 18, obviously, but it was a tricky little putt; one of those you make maybe five times out of ten. This one wasn't to be. But I'm certainly not going to be too hard on myself. I made seven birdies in my last round, four of them in the last five holes. I was swinging the club well and hitting the ball great, and I was delighted to be back in contention. First in the dunhill and second here; it's been a good comeback all in all.

As you might remember, there was some doubt about whether I'd play at Fancourt. I was looking forward to it, having won the dunhill the week before, but I didn't want to overdo things with my knee. A couple of days rest was enough to convince me it would be okay, though. And sitting out the pro am was a good move in the circumstances, just to give me that extra 24 hours recovery time.

Being knocked out of my usual routine maybe didn't help things, though, because the first round turned out to be a bit of a struggle. I wasn't on top of my game and on a golf course like this you're going to have your ups and downs. You can hardly believe they've been able to create something like this from an old runway. It's incredible and man, it's tough. One bad shot and you can make any number. This golf course is going to get you, somewhere; it's just a question of how bad. That's where you have to be able to limit the damage as best you can.

Having had a few problems around the turn, I got myself back to level par with a great eagle on the 13th. Then I went and threw those shots away with a double-bogey on one of the shortest par-4s on the golf course. That kind of stopped me in my tracks and I ended up shooting 76, three over par. Not the best start, but I think the average score for the day was about 77 or something like that. So it wasn't a total disaster.

I then made about the worst start possible to my round on Friday, with a couple of bogeys on 10 and 11, which put me at five over par for the tournament. I figured that would be about where the halfway cut was, so I couldn't afford any more mistakes. In the circumstances I was very satisfied with how I came back after that, playing the last 16 holes in five-under par. I didn't get much joy out of the par-5s but the rest was pretty solid. Had a nice little run going on the front nine, with three birdies in four holes and ended up shooting 70 which got me back to level par for the tournament. It was a good day's work.

On Saturday I carried on the good work from the previous day. I dropped a couple of shots along the way, but overall I was pleased to shoot 69. Holing a 20-footer for birdie at the last was a nice little bonus and it guaranteed me a spot in the final group on Sunday. As I was saying in last week's dunhill report, that's where you want to be. I was looking forward to playing with Retief; I felt like it was going to be a special day with the crowd and everything. Almost like a major championship, really.

Sunday didn't disappoint. As I was saying in my introduction to this report, I had a great battle with Retief. Three shots behind at the start, I managed to get back on level terms after only three holes. I thought making double-bogey on 12 might have blown it for me, but I bounced back with three consecutive birdies on 14, 15, and 16 and from there I fancied my chances. That was a hell of a chip Retief played on 17, though, and in the end that was the difference between us.

It's been great for me to be able to play the last three events of this calendar year, two of which count on the 2006 European Tour schedule. These past couple of weeks have definitely given me a lot of confidence.

2005 Year in Review - On the Course

Usually around this time of the year I'm tired from having played a year's worth of tournament golf around the world and desperate for my Christmas break. But having only just got back into the swing of things this past three weeks, I guess I've got slightly mixed feelings. Still, I'm looking forward to it. We have a beautiful house down here and you can't beat a good family Christmas. I can also use the next four or five weeks to get my knee stronger, continue my fitness regime, and obviously work hard on my golf game. My next tournament is the Qatar Masters in the last week of January, where I'll be defending the title I won earlier this year. Talking of which, now is a good time for me to reflect on the last 12 months, in my traditional end of year website report. No doubt about it, it's been the strangest year of my professional career.

I started the season with a string of top-10 finishes. At the Mercedes I needed a birdie on the reachable par-5 18th to force a playoff, but made six to lose out, and came close again at the Sony Open the following week, finishing second behind Vijay. At the Buick in San Diego I finished 6th, then I was 5th at the Heineken in Australia, one of my favourite tournaments of the year and where I was going for four wins in a row. I was wondering when that first victory was coming my way.

Dubai was the answer. I made eagle on the last, hitting probably one of the best shots of my career over the water to a tight pin position, and holing the putt. That felt great. Then I made the short hop down to Qatar the following week to complete a 'Desert Double'.

After that my season kind of stalled a bit and I had an iffy run of form through the spring in the US, finishing 23rd at Bay Hill, 17th at The Players at TPC, then 46th at The Masters, where I was still recovering from having flu the previous week. It was a tough stretch; and I really didn't feel in control of my golf game.

Shortly after Augusta I flew out to China for back-to-back tournaments and played quite nicely at the Johnnie Walker to finish tied-6th. The week after, I really got things going at the BMW Asian Open, shooting 65 in the last round to win by 13 shots; easily the biggest winning margin of my professional career. It was my third victory of the season and it was only the first week in May. If you'd have asked me then, I honestly thought I'd have a good summer with a lot of my favourite tournaments coming up. But it didn't happen. Not even close, to be honest with you.

I thought the US Open at Pinehurst would be a good week for me, but a tied-15th finish there wasn't much to write home about. Then in the British I shot 74 in the first round at St Andrews, recovered well the next day to shoot 67, but after that played well below my best to finish way down the field.

All in all, with three out of the four major championships gone, it was probably the most disappointed I've been with my performance in those tournaments. Let's face it, these are the ones every golfer wants to do well in. And like I say, it just hadn't happen for me.

Off the Course

Taking a relaxing sailing holiday with the family straight after the Open seemed like the best medicine; unfortunately, it ended up putting me in hospital. No need to go over that episode again, but right from the outset it was pretty clear that the 2005 season was over for me.

Low points? Well, daytime television is pretty depressing! And I think I maybe watched a few too many soaps for my own good. Seriously, though, the rehab was tough at times. Again, I've covered that in a lot of detail over the past five or six months and there's no need to go over it now. Fortunately, I had a great team of people around me: Josh, my personal trainer; Sophie, my physio; and, of course Andrew Unwin, the surgeon who performed both ops. I can't thank them enough for their help and encouragement.

And, as I think I said a few times during the course of the year, the enforced layoff wasn't all bad. It gave me a chance to spend lots of time with the family and basically get to know my kids again. I loved that. And being able to wake up in my own bed every morning and lead a pretty normal life, that made a nice change for me. Although I think Liezl was pretty desperate to get me out of the house by the end of it. She'd had enough of me getting on her case all the time!

Another good thing was I got to see a lot of great sporting contests; things like the Ashes cricket and the Monaco Grand Prix, which was an amazing weekend. It was just like being a regular sports fan. I mean, for the last 14 summers I've been grinding away at tournaments, but this year I got to see how some of the guys in other sports handle pressure. I know how it feels, so it's always interesting to watch how other people react to it.

Business-wise it was a useful time for me. I managed to sort out a lot of stuff that needed attending to, the kind of things which are sometimes hard to give your fullest attention when you're playing tournament golf. Most important of all, I finalised the deal with ISM for Chubby to become my new manager and I'm really pleased with how that's going. He and Mark Bell are a great couple of guys; they're straightforward and honest, they say it like it is, and they know the game inside out.

I caught up with a lot of the golf course design projects that we're involved with right now, some that are just in planning and others already in the construction phase. It's a good time for Ernie Els Design and I know all the guys involved are very excited about that.

The Ernie Els Foundation took a big step forward with its proposed move to Fancourt, which is already well underway and actually not far from completion We'll be able to tell you a lot more about that in 2006.

The same goes for Ernie Els Wine, which has rapidly developed into a blossoming business. Jean, Duncan and the rest of the team are doing a great job on that front.

Anyway, back to golf. As you can imagine, I'm raring to go again. Mentally, I feel sharp. Physically I feel strong. And I feel really good about my golf swing. Having recovered from such a bad injury, it almost seems that 2006 is going to be the start of the second half of my professional career.

And you know, if you look at how well Vijay's been playing since he turned 40, winning majors, topping the PGA Tour money list, and all the rest of it, that kind of inspires me. I've just turned 36 and I figure I've got another 10 good years ahead of me; 10 years to achieve all of my goals.

And it all kicks off again in a month's time. I can't wait!

For now, though, I send all of you my best wishes for a fantastic Christmas and hope that the New Year brings you everything you could wish for. The support you've all given me this year has meant a lot to me, it really has. And I thank you all for that.

Ernie's stats (European Tour 2006)
Tournament: South African Open
Scores: 76, 70, 69, 68 - 283, 9-under par, 2nd
Tournaments played: 2
Prize Money: 273,636 euros ($326,536US)
Position on Money List: 3rd
Stroke Average: 69.63
World Ranking: 5

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