MARANA, Ariz. (AP) - Ernie Els hardly ever catches a break at the Match Play Championship.
When the first edition was held in 1999 at La Costa, he was trailing Paul Azinger going to the 18th when his tee shot caught the worst of lies in the rough.
And it didn’t get much better after that.
He lost in the second round a year later to Bob Estes by missing a 4-foot putt on the last hole. He once blew a 3-up lead against Tom Lehman and missed a 4-foot putt on the 19th hole. And even the Big Easy could only laugh the year Phil Tataurangi buried a 25-foot putt on the bumpy greens of La Costa to force extra holes and beat him in 20.
Just last year, Els lost on the last hole at Dove Mountain by missing from 5 feet on the last hole to Freddie Jacobson.
So perhaps this year is a small measure of justice. Counting the conceded putts, Els had a 75 on Wednesday and a 73 on Thursday. And somehow, the 44-year-old South African is still in the tournament.
“I don’t know if I can say I enjoy it,” Els said. “But it’s a different experience every time. It’s a battle. Sometimes you’re up for it. I found myself at times not being quite up for it. … It’s a matter of who is going to gut it out. And that’s, I guess, the nature of match play, is how much you want it.
“But in this tournament, I haven’t done that well,” Els said. “Hopefully, I can go further in the tournament now.”
Two days have served as a reminder that hope is fleeting.
Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan have made it look relatively easy. Both won their matches Thursday - Kuchar only won two of the 18 holes in a 1-up win over Ryan Moore - and advanced to the third round for the fourth consecutive year.
He has trailed in 33 of the 37 holes he played this week at Dove Mountain, and he has managed to win both time. McDowell was 3-down to Gary Woodland with three holes remaining in the opening round, forced overtime and beat him with a birdie. On Thursday, he was 2 down with four holes remaining against Hideki Matsuyama and beat him with a par on the 18th hole.
“I thought I was dead and buried, both times,” McDowell said.
Els looked to be in the same boat.