HUMBLE, Texas — Ernie Els is approaching the Houston Open like any other tournament, and not worrying about the bigger prize at stake.
Els must win this week to qualify for next week’s Masters Tournament and avoid missing the season’s first major for the first time since 1993.
But he’ll consider winning at Redstone a bonus, and is more focused on building on the strong start to his year.
“You can’t go into a week putting pressure on yourself to win to get into another week,” Els said Wednesday.
“I just want to have a good week. If I can win, obviously, that would be absolutely wonderful. But my goal here is not to get into the Masters, it’s to play the Houston Open as good as I can.
“If I get into the Masters, that’s great. If I don’t, then I’ve had many Masters that I can look back at, and I’ll get back in there next year.”
The three-time major winner had his chances in recent weeks, earning top-5 finishes at Tampa and Bay Hill.
But the man known as the Big Easy missed crucial short putts late in both tournaments and seems resigned to the reality that he won’t be at Augusta next week.
“It’ll be a very weird feeling,” Els said. “Since I’ve been a professional at this level, I’ve played at the Masters, so it’ll be a very weird feeling not to be there. I’ll miss it.”
The Masters could still offer a special international players’ invitation to Els, like tournament officials did for Australia’s Greg Norman twice. Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, a nine-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, received one of those this year.
Els isn’t expecting a call between now and Sunday, when the Masters field will be set.
“It is an invitational event,” he said, “and they have their reasons to invite somebody or not, and that’s the sad part. I’ll probably miss it for the first time in 18 or 19 years. My streak will come to an end, unfortunately.
“I can’t blame the Masters people for not inviting me. I’ve put myself in this position by not playing very well.”
Phil Mickelson is the defending champion in Houston, and the field also includes local favorite Fred Couples and international stars Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, the runner-up to Tiger Woods at Bay Hill last week.
Players with area ties in the field are Evans resident Vaughn Taylor, Blake Adams, of Swainsboro, Ga., and Will Claxton, a former Swainsboro resident.
Last year, Mickelson shot 63-65 in the final two rounds to win by three shots, but then didn’t break 70 in four rounds at Augusta and tied for 27th.
Mickelson will play the first two rounds with defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Couples, a former Shell winner who played at the University of Houston and draws immense galleries here every year.