Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Ernie Els’s first major championship was the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997. It was actually the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in 1994.
SAN FRANCISCO — A year ago, Ernie Els came to Congressional Country Club hoping to rekindle memories of his second major championship, the 1997 U.S. Open held on that very same course. Instead, he tumbled to a low point in his stellar career, missing the cut and sounding lost afterward.
But Saturday afternoon, Els re-emerged. After six holes, he was 7 over for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, and then he made three birdies and an eagle coming in for a sparkling round of 68 that left him 2 over, just three strokes off the lead held by Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
“I’m in a much better mood now than I was on the sixth tee,” Els said.
Els’s eagle came from a tricky spot at the par-5 17th — off the right side of the green. Els couldn’t see the flag from down a steep slope, yet he hit a perfect chip shot that dropped.
“Obviously, the shot on 17 is what dreams are made of, a shot like that in a U.S. Open,” Els said. “So I’m really pleased.”
Els’s game has slipped in recent years, so much so that he fell out of the top 50 in the world rankings, and therefore wasn’t invited to the Masters in April. Last year, he missed the cut not only at Congressional, but in the British Open and PGA Championship as well. Now, he is looking for his fourth major at 42.
“Experience helps around here,” Els said. “For some reason I’m patient again this week and that’s been kind of my virtue in major championship golf.”
There is perhaps no more intriguing story at this Open than Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old from Southern California who backed up his performance over the first two days with a remarkable even-par 70 in Saturday’s third round. That left him 3 over for the tournament. Each time Hossler made one of his four bogeys Saturday, he responded with a birdie.
“When you lose run, you can really get on the bogey train if you’re not careful,” Hossler said. “I was really fortunate. . . . I feel really comfortable out here.” …
John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion at LSU, began the day 1 over par and playing with his mentor, fellow LSU grad David Toms, who was tied for the lead. Peterson, though, made four bogeys in his first 11 holes to drop to 5 over.
Then he came to the difficult par-3 13th. He swung, and watched as the ball landed at the front of the green and rolled directly into the hole, an ace, the first at a U.S. Open since Thongchai Jaidee made a hole-in-one in 2010 at Pebble Beach’s fifth hole and the 42nd in Open history. . . .
Phil Mickelson, notable at the U.S. Open for his five runner-up finishes, shot his second consecutive 71 Saturday – making a disappointing bogey at 18 – and sits at 8 over for the tournament. He was, however, greeted with a serenade of “Happy Birthday” at the 18th. Mickelson turned 42 Saturday.
“It’s a long, difficult day, even though it’s my birthday,” Mickelson said. “And it was very flattering of the fans.”