BETHESDA - Ernie Els hit the shot of the day at the Quicken Loans National on Saturday, a 9-iron from 160 yards at the par 4 No. 12 that slam-dunked into the hole for an eagle.
Was that an omen that Els was destined to win his 20th PGA Tour event, adding another accolade to his already great career? Els will enter Sunday’s final round in second place at 13-under par, (200, 66-69-65), just two strokes behind leader Billy Hurley III (198, 66-65-67).
Els’ third-round 65 was Saturday’s best, and it propelled him into Sunday’s final pairing with Hurley. Els has been in this position countless times as a four-time major winner, which could work to his advantage. He also has fond memories of Congressional Country Club, winning the 1997 U. S. Open at Congressional, where he has remained a gallery favorite.
However, Els was besieged by putting problems at the Masters this year, and he has not won since his victory at the 2012 British Open. At age 46, Els wants to show he still has what it takes to win.
“The way I’m hitting it now, the way I’m swinging, I’m getting more confidence,” Els said. “Obviously, I’ve had a terrible time the last year, year and a half in results, but I feel good. I feel like I want to go out there and prove something to myself again.”
Els’ fluid swing was in vintage form Sunday, and he consistently hit fairways and greens. But even Els said he never remembered holing a shot on the fly like the one at No. 12, which flew into the hole from 160 yards like one of Steph Curry’s halfcourt shots.
“I’d be very cocky to say I’m trying to hole it from 160, but I was trying to give myself a look at birdie,” Els said. “Just one of those things, you know?”
One of those things that great players do. Els hoped he had a little more magic left.
“At the end of the day, the guy that plays the best from tee to green will win,” Els said. “This course, you can’t fake it.”