NORTON, Mass. — Ernie Els waited for his TV interview slumped forward in a plastic chair, spent from another week of living on the edge.

"It's been a hard couple of days," the Hall of Famer said wryly.

More like a hard three weeks — this one going down to his final putt Monday in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Needing a birdie to keep his PGA Tour season alive, Els went long with his second shot at TPC Boston's par-5 closing hole. His chip rolled 6 feet past the pin — long enough to jangle the nerves — but Els holed the putt.

Survive and advance. Three straight weeks on the FedEx Cup bubble, and it hasn't burst yet.

"It's a bad place to be," Els said, "but a good place to come back from."

That's the intrigue weaved into the PGA Tour's "playoff" series. While Webb Simpson, Chez Reavie and a half-dozen others jockeyed for a trophy Simpson eventually claimed, just as interesting were those under pressure to crack the top 70 in points for a slot in next week's BMW Championship.

Els wasn't the only big name caught in that crucible. Geoff Ogilvy found himself in a tight squeeze when his drive at No. 17 settled in a hole off the fairway, guarded by a rock.

"I could have had five swings at it and not moved it," he said.

The Aussie took a drop for an unplayable lie, found the green and drained a 20-foot par save. After that, the birdie at No. 18 seemed almost effortless.

"I thought I was gone," said Ogilvy, whose ambitions went beyond FedEx Cup survival. Trying to play his way into the International lineup for the Presidents Cup, he needed the extra start.

Graeme McDowell wasn't so fortunate. Needing to par his final two holes, the former U.S. Open champ got into trouble at No. 17, bogeyed and couldn't make up the shot at No. 18. He wound up 73rd in points.

Chris Stroud thought he might be gone, too, after a double bogey/bogey combo at Nos. 14 and 15. Projected 76th in points as he came to the final hole, he ripped a 3-hybrid that settled 3 feet from the flagstick for an eagle.

Stroud's final ranking: 70th.

"You've got to have some breaks in this game," he mused.

Els, though, has provided the best storyline. Fighting the worst season of his career, he was 126th in the standings — and out of the playoffs — when he added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule three weeks ago.

Since then he has crept to 118th, 99th and now 68th. Call it a crash course in how the other half lives. And, just maybe, a necessary taste of playing under the gun again.

"I'm starting to feel more like myself," Els said.

And with that, he was ready for a few beers to celebrate a tie for 16th and a week off — but not the end of his season.

"One of my best finishes all year," Els cracked.

jshain@tribune.com