DORAL, Fla. - Charl Schwartzel has been looking up to Ernie Els for as long as he has been around golf.
Schwartzel was a toddler when his father and Els played together in a team event they won at a local club in South Africa. The 25-year-old remembers going to his first golf tournament, the Million Dollar Challenge, to watch the Big Easy.
He even became an affiliate member of Els' foundation, traveling with the team of junior golfers. "He was like my big hero," Schwartzel said Saturday.
The dynamics have changed dramatically at the CA Championship. His hero now stands in the way of Schwartzel shining on a world stage.
Schwartzel ran off four birdies in the opening six holes, and the 25-year-old South African stayed in the game with three big par putts on the back nine for a 5-under 67. Els, now 40 years old and a three-time major champion with 60 victories worldwide, made a few soft mistakes and had to settle for a 2-under 70 to join Schwartzel in a tie for the lead at 12-under 204.
Els has rarely been so desperate to win. He is coming off a season in which he failed to win anywhere in the world for the first time since he was a 20-year-old playing his first full year as a pro. He has rarely been so pleased with a guy he is trying to beat.
"I think it's a wonderful, cool story," Els said. "It's great for South African golf, obviously. A 25-year-old really making his mark this year. He's won twice. He's a force to be reckoned with. Tomorrow, we shake hands and play 18 holes as hard as we can. He's going to try and win. I'm going to try and win."
Padraig Harrington, who had downplayed his chances most of the week, ran off four birdies on the back nine only to have his streak of 26 holes without a bogey end with a three-putt on the 18th. He still had a 67 and was one shot behind.
Robert Allenby, somehow, remains in the mix. The Australian missed eight putts from inside 15 feet and was falling out of contention until two late birdies allowed him to salvage a 1-under 71, leaving him only two shots behind.