By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Thanks to a changed grip and different technique, Ernie Els can finally see light at the end of the tunnel after struggling badly with his short putting for much of the past 12 months.
The four-times major champion and former world number one reached his nadir last month when he duffed a putt from just 18 inches at the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club where he ended up missing the cut.
Prompted by his father Neels and fellow South African golfer Nico van Rensburg, Els switched to an unconventional putting grip where his left hand is placed below the right, leading to a welcome return to form at this month's Dubai Desert Classic.
"It's been very nice," Els told Reuters at Riviera Country Club on Wednesday while preparing for this week's PGA Tour event, the Northern Trust Open.
"The greens here are a little bit tricky but I am looking forward to putting, which is what I've been looking forward to for a very long time, just having a good feeling on the greens. It's finally getting there.
"I went through a very tough spell there, especially last year and beginning of this year. Everybody saw that. I was really nowhere and now I feel like I've got some game."
Asked how difficult it had been to cope with a radical change in muscle memory from a conventional putting technique he had used for decades, Els replied: "This feels very natural now and the putting stroke is repeating itself.
"I had never really tried it before. My dad and my good friend Nico both told me to try it so I did. I'm now feeling very comfortable and confident."
The 46-year-old, who has described his 2015 campaign as his worst ever in golf, had plummeted to 205th in the world rankings before he teed it up at the Dubai Desert Classic, where he finished in a tie for 18th.
"It was an exact turnaround from a couple weeks before when I was dreading to get on the greens," said Els, widely known as the 'Big Easy' because of his smooth swing and laidback demeanor. "Now I'm falling in love on the greens again."
Els, a 19-times winner on the PGA Tour, has fond memories of Riviera Country Club heading into Thursday's opening round, having won the tournament here in 1999.
"Riviera is one of my all-time favorite venues," said Els. "When you play the game as long as I have, you're going to have a couple of bad memories here and there, but they are mostly good here."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)