SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Ernie Els hasn’t won a major championship in 10 years.
But after his chip-in for eagle on No. 17 on Saturday at The Olympic Club, the South African found himself tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, just three shots back at 2-over 212 entering the final round.
“To come back and play the last 12 holes in 5 under is quite amazing, and obviously the shot on 17 is what dreams are made of,” he said.
At age 42, this is his 20th U.S. Open.
“I feel that my mental attitude this week has been quite good,” Els said. “I’ve had a couple of train wrecks out there (an 8 on the par-5 16th and double bogey on No. 4) the first day. So hopefully I got those out of the way.
“Experience helps around here. For some reason I’m patient again this week and that’s kind of my virtue in major championship golf … the ability to be patient and wait it out. And I think you’re going to have to do that tomorrow.”
Els missed the cut last year, but finished third in 2010. He failed to qualify for the Masters this year.
He will tee off in the third-to-last group with Blake Adams.
FIRST-TIME ACE: John Peterson had never made a hole-in-one before.
It was easy to tell Saturday at the U.S. Open.
Peterson’s tee shot on the par-3 13th from 180 yards out landed about 15 feet short of the pin, caught the ridge and trickled in for an ace. He tossed his 7-iron, threw his hands in the air almost fell when he leaped to chest-bump his caddie.
“When it went in, man, I don’t know what I did. I want to watch the replay,” said Peterson, whose third-round 72 left him four shots behind leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. “I hope y’all have a replay so I can see it again. But I went nuts. I know that. I tried to chest-bump my caddie and I missed.”
Even playing-partner and fellow former LSU standout David Toms high-fived Peterson in exuberance.
“I had my hands up in the air,” Toms said. “I don’t know if he could see it because I was probably in front of him watching his ball, and the crowd was going nuts. And it was pretty cool, I was pretty happy for them.”
The ace will finally give Peterson some family bragging rights.
The first tee shot his mother ever hit, landed in the cup. Luckily for her, she didn’t have to play the treacherous Olympic Course. In fact, she has never played again.
“She hit one shot in her life and it went in,” Peterson said. “And she quit. Smart girl.”
MINIATURE GOLF: Players teed off from the most forward box Saturday on the par-3 15th, which played at 107 yards. That didn’t make it easy. The hole location was four paces from the edge, tucked in the front-left corner.
“The flag on 15 is one the hardest flags I’ve ever seen on a par 3,” said Lee Westwood, who took par on the hole all three rounds.
No. 15 played at 150 yards Thursday, and 143 on Friday.
There were 38 birdies the first two days, compared to 58 bogeys or worse. On Saturday the hole produced eight birdies and 12 bogeys.
The USGA added a little distance to the next hole, making the longest hole in tournament history a yard longer, at 671 yards, with the hole location set in the back-right corner just over the front-right bunker.
The pin on that hole also was placed just four paces from the fringe _ one of seven holes tucked that close to the edge.
USGA officials hand-watered all the greens Friday night then added more water Saturday morning to keep them from drying out.
BIRTHDAY BOY: A good 42nd birthday present for Phil Mickelson would have been a low round Saturday. Instead, he settled for a 1-over 71 that left him at 8-over 218, nine shots off the lead. Mickelson bogeyed the 18th Saturday, a hole he birdied Friday, after failing to get up and down from the right rough above a greenside bunker. His 7-foot par putt lipped out on the left edge.
A large group of fans around the hole serenaded him with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” despite the miss.
“Yeah, it’s a long, difficult day, even though it’s my birthday,” Mickelson said. “And it was very flattering of the fans, thank you.”
GOING LOW: Casey Wittenberg’s round of 67 Saturday was 10 strokes better than the 77 he posted Friday.
He did so despite opening with a bogey on the difficult first hole. He birdied Nos. 4, 17 and 18 and eagled the 268-yard par-4 seventh _ tying for the low round of the championship.
“It’s only the fourth time I’ve ever played the golf course, so I feel like I’m learning day by day where you can play from and where you can’t play from,” Wittenberg said.
He said it made a difference teeing off so early, when the greens were fairly receptive.
“By the time Tiger and those guys tee off, I think it’s going to be a brick,” Wittenberg said.
Wittenberg, a Nationwide Tour player who went through sectional qualifying, is playing in his fifth U.S. Open. He missed the cuts the last three times.
CELEBRITY WATCH: Jerry Rice, Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were among the current and former NFL players checking out the action at The Olympic Club this week. Ditto for Fred Couples, who watched Tiger Woods’ round Friday.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report.
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