ERNIE ELS MUST beat a quality field at the Houston Open this weekend if he is to qualify for his 19th consecutive US Masters appearance.
The veteran South African, who has twice been a runner-up at Augusta National, must win at the Redstone Golf Club in Texas if he is to continue his Masters streak, but will face competition from the likes of Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel.
Els’ form of late has been promising. He tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, and narrowly missed out on a playoff at the Transitions Championship earlier in the month, giving him confidence he can rediscover his best golf.
“Qualification for the Masters through the top 50 in the world ranking is no longer an option for me, so I need to win here to secure my place at August,” Els wrote in his blog on pgatour.com.
“I’m playing good golf now, so obviously it will be great if I’m there. If I’m not, so be it. I’m just glad my game is coming around.
“So whatever happens this week, I really feel now like I can have a good year. I feel like the hard work is paying off.”
One of the men standing in Els’ way is compatriot Schwartzel, who is the defending Masters champion.
Schwartzel has not played a tour event since missing the cut at the Transitions two weeks ago, but before that he had top-10 finishes at the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championships.
A three-time Masters winner, Phil Mickelson will be hoping to use this week as a tune-up for another crack at the title at Augusta.
Mickelson finished at 20-under at Redstone in 2011 to win by three strokes from Scott Verplank and Chris Kirk, and will no doubt be eyeing another title to cap off his Masters preparations.
Also expected to be in contention are Westwood, the former world number one, and Stricker, who is the highest-ranked American in the field at Redstone.
Current FedEx Cup leader Johnson Wagner will be hoping he can secure more points to remain at the top of the standings, while 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell is also in good form after his runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at Bay Hill last week.