By John Nestor
NORTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Ernie Els is a three-times major champion and has faced plenty of pressure in his glittering career but he had to survive a nerve-racking finish to the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday.
Facing the prospect of failing to qualify for the final two events of the PGA Tour's FedExCup playoffs, the South African squeezed through with a birdie at the last for a one-under-par 70 at the TPC Boston.
"I'm going to get on an airplane, have a couple of beers and celebrate getting into the top 70," Els told reporters after tying for 16th in the tournament at eight-under 276. "It's been a hard couple of days."
The lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs began at The Barclays last month with a field of 125 from which 100 players advanced to the Deutsche Bank. Only 70 will now move on to Cog Hill for next week's BMW Championship and Els qualified in 68th spot.
He had entered the Deutsche Bank precariously placed at 99th in the standings, having just made it through the rain-shortened Barclays.
"There's no better exercise than what I have been through the last three weeks to really test your nerves," Els said. "I've been really under the gun and I think it's been good."
The smooth-swinging South African was certainly under pressure on the 18th tee. He had bogeyed the 12th to fall back to level par and then recorded five consecutive pars to slip outside the projected top 70 as he stepped to the 18th tee.
He was keenly aware of his predicament.
"I was not going to look at a scoreboard all day and then I just glimpsed left and boom, I saw the board and I saw '71 Els, 70 Ogilvy'. So I knew I had to get it up-and-down (for birdie)," Els said.
Knowing exactly where he stood coming into the Deutsche Bank Championship and what he needed to do there to survive did not make things any easier for Els.
He shot a sparkling 65 in Saturday's second round to give himself a golden opportunity to cement his playoff spot but he failed to build on that on Sunday as he carded a level 71.
Everything then hinged on how he played the par-five 18th in Monday's final round.
"The last three weeks I've really been under the gun," Els said. "The emotions and the stuff that I've been going through are very similar to trying to win a golf tournament.
"Actually I think it's worse. You screw up on the 18th (when) leading (the tournament) and now you're going to finish second and have a $600,000 cheque. Here, (in the playoffs) I'm heading home."
With his late birdie on Monday, Els ensured he will not be at home for next week's BMW Championship but the playoff pressure will once again ratchet up as he bids to stay in the frame for the Tour Championship finale in Atlanta for the top 30.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)