SAN MARTIN -- Ernie Els is at the Frys.com Open this year. So is the Claret Jug.
"That's the holy grail, man," said a beaming Els while sitting next to the spoils of his British Open win from July. "People have been searching for this their whole lives and don't get their hands on it, so I like to take it around.
"Winning this has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. From where I was last year and where I am now -- I'm really looking forward to majors again."
Els won the Claret Jug once before in 2002 to capture his third career major. But nine years later he was still stuck on three majors, and he entered the 2011 Frys.com Open without a top 10 for the PGA Tour season.
"It's a really terrible feeling competing out here and knowing in the back of your mind that you don't really know if you can really handle it," Els said.
Els briefly grabbed a share of the lead during the final round of last year's Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin before ultimately tying for fourth. Still, it was his best finish of the season for the then-41-year-old, and it reaffirmed his belief that the belly putter he recently turned to could resurrect his game.
"I played well here last year, and that definitely gave me a bit of a boost going into this year," Els said. "I needed time in golf tournaments to see how this belly putter actually operates. You can hit as many putts as you want on the practice greens, but under pressure is when you find out where your game is."
Els' game withered under the pressure of qualifying for the Masters at the start of the 2012 season, as he kicked away a chance to win the Transitions Championship with two missed putts inside of 5 feet.
But Els got back on the horse and charged into contention again with top-five finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and he was a back-nine contender at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
"That was my goal: to play a lot of golf and get myself into better positions on the weekends and see where my game is," Els said.
Then it happened.
Els closed 68-68 on the weekend at the British Open, sinking a clutch 15-foot birdie putt on his final hole to reach second place and 7 under for the championship. Els then watched as leader and close friend Adam Scott completed his painful four-bogey slide, missing a 10-footer on the last hole to fall one stroke shy of a playoff.
It meant Els once again was a major champion, 10 years after his last British Open title.
"I got quite fortunate, obviously," said Els, who at one point trailed by six strokes. "You could see that I did make some nice putts and played a really wonderful back nine. Unfortunately for Scotty he made some mistakes coming in.
"We've all make those mistakes. I've done that in the past. Definitely lost more majors than I've won, so that's the way it goes in golf sometimes."
Els closed out the PGA Tour year by qualifying for the Tour Championship last month, where he finished 27th in the 30-man field.
"At my age, to get my hands on the Claret Jug has been really a bonus to my career and definitely a boost for the next couple years," said Els, who has won $3,380,618 this year.
It appears that the only thing to slow down those next couple of years would be the ban of the belly putter, which is a decision that could come as soon as the end of this year.
"I do believe that it does help in certain circumstances," Els said. "It helps me with shorter putts. There are going to be complications coming. They'll have to look at it pretty carefully. We'll see. If they ban it, and I have to go back to a short putter, I'll work on that. I used to be a pretty good putter with the short putter."
WHERE: CordeValle Golf Club (7,368 yards, par 71), San Martin
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Sunday, 1-4 p.m.)
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Bryce Molder