AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ernie Els is hoping his surprising victory in the British Open last year -- the fourth major championship of his career -- shows that he is still capable of winning the Masters.
Els, 43, has had a number of heartbreaks at the Augusta National Golf Club, finishing runner-up to Vijay Singh in 2000 and to Phil Mickelson in 2004.
That culminated a stretch in which Els finished no worse than sixth in five consecutive Masters.
Els, though, is off to a slow start in 2013. His best finish in six PGA Tour events is a tie for 13th, and that came in his first tournament of the season at Riviera
"Well, I mean, I'm not bringing a lot of game into this Masters, but I've been working hard," Els said.
"I'm just hoping for this thing to turn around."
Payne sidesteps a controversy
Masters chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday he and the club will stay out of the controversial debate over "anchoring" of the long putter.
"We are not a governing body," Payne said during his state of the Masters address. "We are a golf club that puts on a tournament, so we wouldn't be presumptuous to say that we have that kind of influence."
The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club -- golf's two governing bodies -- are in favor of banning the practice of "anchoring" the putter against the chest/sternum. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America are in favor of keeping it legal for players to use the long putter.
"Given the fact that the ruling bodies have not yet declared a decision following that open comment period, I do think it would be inappropriate for us to express an opinion, other than to say that we hope and believe that they can reach common ground so that golf will continue under one set of rules," Payne said.
No plaque for Bubba ... yet
Payne was asked if Augusta National would consider putting a plaque in the trees to the right of No. 10 fairway to commemorate the spot where Bubba Watson hit his improbable recovery shot in the playoff last year.
"You know, I don't know, we haven't talked about that," Payne said.
"I guess I don't know the answer to that. I think we'd have to get a little more time to see how history remembers that before we would make that decision."
Gene Sarazen is safe for now.
Tough acts to follow
Nathan Smith, the U.S. Mid-Amateur champ from Allison Park, has had a tough act to follow at Augusta National.
In the par-3 contest Wednesday, he was paired with PGA Tour winner Russell Henley behind the Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
In the group behind Smith was Rory McIlroy and his girlfriend caddie, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
Today, Smith is in the first group for the start of the 77th Masters, which means he will follow ceremonial starters Palmer and Nicklaus off the first tee.golf
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @gerrydulac. First Published April 11, 2013 4:00 AM