Ernie Els chips during day three at the Fiji International. Picture: Getty Images
Ernie Els chips during day three at the Fiji International. Picture: Getty Images

Easy does it as Els closes in on Fiji win

THE "Big Easy" was the prime mover in the third round of the Fiji International, with headline act Ernie Els now eyeing a drought-breaking victory on the Coral Coast.

The four-time major winner shot a three-under 69 in difficult conditions at Natadola Bay to be five under for the event, and just three shots behind leader Gaganjeet Bhullar from India.

It could have been an even better round for the winner of 70 tournaments around the globe, with Els mixing his five birdies with "soft" back-to-back bogeys on the seventh and eighth holes.

Ernie Els chips during day three at the Fiji International. Picture: Getty Images
Ernie Els chips during day three at the Fiji International. Picture: Getty Images

He finished the day with birdies on the 17th and 18th and will take ominous momentum into the final round when Els will loom large on the leaderboard occupied by players who would have idolised the South African.

The strong wind battered the leaders in the afternoon, forcing them to either tread water or go backwards to open the door for Els. Bhullar was the exception as he matched the South African's round of three-under 69.

Queensland duo Jake McLeod and Andrew Dodt, West Australian Jarryd Felton and Victorian Terry Pilkadaris are at seven under, with Kiwi Ben Campbell at six under after shooting a five-over 77 to tumble from the lead.

"At least we are in sniffing distance,'' Els said.

Tournament leader Gaganjeet Bhullar ponders his options on day three. Picture: Getty Images
Tournament leader Gaganjeet Bhullar ponders his options on day three. Picture: Getty Images

"There is a low score out there for me. I'm starting to hit the ball nicely. Starting to get a bit more confidence in the putter.

"I've just got to keep it together a bit more on the front nine … doing that maybe I can do a little charge on the back nine.''

Els, 48, is in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career.

Before his drawcard role in Fiji, he made just five cuts in 17 tournament appearances in 2018.

The International Team captain for the Presidents Cup had missed eight cuts in a row before Fiji, with his last weekend rounds coming at the Texas Open in April.

Andrew Dodt is one shot off the lead with a group of fellow Aussies. Picture: Getty Images
Andrew Dodt is one shot off the lead with a group of fellow Aussies. Picture: Getty Images

Els' last tournament victory was at the 2013 BMW International Open on the European Tour.

The former world No.1 was a tournament-winning machine in his glittering prime with at least one victory every year from 1992 to 2008.

"It's been a while (since being in contention). It's nice to play a proper tournament and actually have half a sniff at it,'' Els said.

"If it really blows tomorrow anything can happen. A par score could be a great score. If it's like this, I've got to get to six, seven under par. But you can't push too hard.''

Between the third and fourth rounds Els planned to watch the Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and his team - the Johannesburg-based Lions. The blue numbers on the Lions jerseys represent Els' autism charity.

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