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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ernie Els has played Augusta National enough to know the halfway point is far too early to think this Masters is over.
Now if only he can get a little help from Jordan Spieth.
"I don't want to wish anything bad, but if he takes his foot off the gas and gives you a bit (of) hope to catching him," Els said.
The South African started Friday in good position at 5 under, only three strokes back of Spieth's lead. He stayed three strokes back after four holes with an early birdie before four bogeys moved him down the leaderboard, and even further behind the young Texan. Els finished exactly where he started at 5 under with an even par 72-139, putting him nine strokes behind Spieth.
Not what the Big Easy wanted playing in his 21st Masters and still looking for his first green jacket at age 45. Els has 19 PGA Tour titles and 28 on the European Tour, including two U.S. Open championships and two British Opens. He's already improved over his last visit to Augusta when he missed the cut, shooting 53-52.
With all his experience, Els also has seen plenty of golfers shoot to the top of the leaderboard. So while Els credits Spieth with playing "unbelievably well," the South African isn't ready to concede anything just yet.
"There's also been real good comebacks," Els said. "It's not over. Big weekend ahead, a lot of golf to be played."
Els said four mistakes really cost him on Friday.
He picked the wrong club on the par-4 5th and hit over the green, forced to get up and down for bogey. He was short again on No. 7, three-putted on No. 10 and missed a short putt on 11.
A windy day certainly didn't help him picking the right clubs. Els bounced back with two birdies in a three-hole stretch, starting at No. 13, getting him back to 5 under. Now he says the key will be hitting irons closer to the pin, giving himself more scoring chances.
"I didn't get it up and down when I needed to, but I felt in control, patient," Els said. "And I feel I've got a couple rounds in me when I get it altogether."