- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - Ernie Els has been playing the Masters since 1994, and he has not gone away entirely empty.

He has 12 pairs of crystal goblets from making eagles during the tournament. He twice won a crystal vase for having the low score of the round. And he has two silver medals and silver trays from being the runner-up in 2000 and 2004.

What he doesn’t have is a green jacket.

And that’s why Els might not be going back _ at least not this year.

The sentiment is that Augusta National should give a special invitation to the Big Easy, a giant in the game in so many ways. Beyond his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, Els is the modern pioneer as a global golfer with 74 wins worldwide.

But the club is doing the right thing by not giving him one.

Els has no one to blame but himself for being in this predicament. Since last year’s Masters, he has only three finishes in the top 10 (including a playoff loss in South Africa in January) and he has missed the cut six times. He started the year at No. 56 in the world and had three months to crack the top 50.

That’s what made Innisbrook so excruciating to watch. Els made a spirited run up the leaderboard Sunday in the Transitions Championship and was poised to win, which would have given him an automatic invitation to drive down Magnolia Lane. With a one-shot lead, he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole. Needing to make par on the 18th hole to join the playoff, he tried to jam the 4-foot putt into the cup with his belly putter and pulled it badly.

Els showed a mixture of shock and anger during an awkward TV interview, yet it was a snapshot of why he’s such a popular figure. There is a raw honesty about Els that makes him real.

“I was so hot I found it difficult to even think straight,” Els said the next day on his website. “I’ve had a night to sleep on it, though. It still hurts the way I finished the tournament, but I know in my heart how well I played all week. I have to believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, the results will reflect that and I’ll give myself plenty more opportunities to win.”

He needs one to get to the Masters.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational has a field strong enough that Els, who is No. 62 in the world, might be able to finish second alone and move into the top 50. This week is the cutoff for the top 50 in the world ranking to get Masters invitations.

Otherwise, his last chance will be to win the Houston Open.

One reason it looks as though the Masters should give Els an invitation _ historically reserved for international players _ is that it already gave one to 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan.

This is the second time Ishikawa has received an invitation.

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