Ernie Els created a lot of pre-Christmas headlines when he shared that he would be going to the 2018 Masters.
Thank you for a Great Xmas present! @TheMasters Can't wait!
— Ernie Els (@TheBig_Easy) December 24, 2017
The immediate reaction was a lot of holiday joy for Els, whose exemption into the Masters ran out in 2017 after the five-year term after winning the 2012 British Open Championship had ended. Last year's Masters was a bit of a send-off for Els, who wasn't certain if he'd get to play in the Masters again at Augusta National Golf Club. He'd enjoyed a number of close calls there, most notably perhaps in 2004, when Phil Mickelson nipped him on the second nine on Sunday to pick up the first of three Masters wins. The assumption was Els was given an honorary invitation to compete in 2018.
However, it seems the reaction to Els' news was rooted in a misunderstanding -- one Els cleared up the day after Christmas.
Wanted to clarify my excitement getting an invite from @TheMasters. Work continues to qualify to compete!
— Ernie Els (@TheBig_Easy) December 26, 2017
Els clarified he didn't receive an honorary invitation to play in the Masters. Rather, he received an invitation from Augusta National Golf Club to attend the 2018 Masters as a special guest, being the four-time major winner he is.
This is part of the tradition of the Masters. Els will be among the special invited guests to come to the tournament. The Big Easy can still qualify for the tournament, provided he wins on the PGA Tour in a non-opposite-field event between now and the Masters. He could also qualify if he makes a somewhat miraculous move in the Official World Golf Ranking from outside the top 500 to inside the top 50 by the week prior to the Masters.