Ernie Els’ surprisingly strong early-round play at Augusta forced me to reflect on his career as a whole. After all, what better time to look back than this week, which could have been his final trip to The Masters?
After a lot of thought, I arrived at the conclusion that Els was drastically underappreciated. I’d go so far as to say I believe is the second greatest player of the Tiger era.
Dubbed “The Big Easy” for his sweet swing and laid back nature, Els was a fixture within the top five of the Official World Golf Rankings for over a decade and stood as one of the only real adversaries to Tiger during his time of dominance. The biggest argument you’ll hear against Ernie is that Phil Mickelson was Tiger’s biggest rival, a case that’s filled with American and recency bias. While Mickelson has one more major than Els, consider all the things he’s done that Lefty was never able to accomplish.
Ernie was one of only four players not named Tiger to ascend to the top of the world rankings during Tiger’s dominant stretch of golf from 1997 through October of 2010.
During that time, Els was a model of consistency, he ended the year ranked inside the top 5 of the OWGR in 11 of 14 seasons, second to only Woods (14) and trailed by Phil Mickelson (10), Vijay Singh (4), David Duval (4) and Lee Westwood (4).
Along with being a mainstay within the world’s top five, Els also held an impressive cut streak of his own, making 42 consecutive PGA Tour cuts from the 2004 Players Championship to the 2007 Masters. He also made 82 consecutive cuts on the European Tour starting at the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic.
His 71 worldwide wins are second to Tiger’s 106 and followed by Vijay’s 60 and Phil’s 51.
Els’ four major championship wins ranks him third in this time period, behind Tiger’s 14 and Phil’s 5. Following his 2012 win at The Open Championship, Els became just the eighth player in golf to win a major championship in three different decades.
While many talk about “what could have been” for Phil if Tiger had not been around, Ernie finished runner-up to Tiger more than any other player. In 2000, during Tiger’s most dominant stretch, Els finished runner-up to Vijay in the Masters and Tiger in the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
In a game where every player at every level strives for consistency and wins, Ernie Els was the era’s clear cut No. 2 behind Tiger Woods.