Els ready to get major win in 2nd straight year

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ARDMORE, PA. (AP) - Give it up, Ernie.

No, not the belly putter. At least, not yet.

Ernie Els has a claret jug he must return with his reign as British Open champion coming to an end.

“It was very great to have it in my possession again,” a smiling Els said.

Perhaps another U.S. Open Trophy would serve as an adequate replacement.

Els is on the hunt for a third U.S. Open championship and the Big Easy wants to find it at Merion Golf Club this weekend. Els is one of the few dozen or so in the 156-player field to play some rounds at Merion. He played corporate outings in 2004 and 2005 and recalled the tough holes, blind tee shots _ and the rain.

Lots of rain.

Not much changed when Els returned this week. Rain has absolutely soaked the course and flooded bunkers over the last three days. Els scrapped a practice session on Saturday and Monday’s was cut short because of the downpour that greatly dampened and softened the 6,996-yard course, the shortest Open in more than a decade.

“I think it’s not going to bare its teeth the way it should,” Els said. “I know guys were hoping for a firm test.”

With softer conditions, Els may as well keep the driver in the bag.

Golfers should be able to hit the fairway with a 3-wood or even an iron on some of the par-4s.

Once they reach the green, it could be time for Els to anchor up the belly putter.

The 43-year-old Els only has about three more years of majors left where he can still use the belly putter in its current form. The proposed rule change would prohibit golfers at all levels from anchoring a club against their bodies while making a stroke. Els, who won the British with a longer putter, has been outspoken with his unhappiness over the ban.

“Unfortunately, for guys that have been using it for a very long time, I think it’s very unfair,” he said. “For the future of the game, looking down the road 50 to a hundred years, they probably needed to do this step at some point, I guess. Probably should have done it 30, 40 years ago, but we’re at this point now and guys are winning a lot of big tournaments, kids are starting to use it, and so that’s what it is.”

He understood change is ahead, whether he liked it or not _ or how much if affected his game.

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