Els Moves to Callaway
Callaway announced the deal as Els began first round play in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand with a Callaway FT-5 driver, an HX Tour 56 golf ball and a new Callaway bag. Callaway and Els will work on fitting him with the metalwoods, irons, wedges and putter that best suit his game. The driver has 8.5 degrees of loft and aneutral face bias, and Els got comfortable with it in just two days of trial, said a company official.
The eventual switch to an Odyssey putter (Odyssey is a Callaway business unit) is definite, said the Callaway official. As for irons and wedges, Els will work with legendary Callaway club designer Roger Cleveland, who has known Els for more than 17 years.
Els will continue to wear the hat with SAP logo on front, but the Callaway logo appears on the sides and back of his cap.
Although it was reported in some quarters that Callaway bought out Els agreement with Titleist, Callaway officials said that's not true.
The parties didn't disclose specific terms of the deal. Els, 37, has won three major championships: the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens and the Open Championship in 2002. He joined the PGA Tour in 1994; the U.S. Open at Oakmont that year was the first of his 15 PGA Tour wins. Els has won 43 times in international events, plus four times in team tournaments, always with fellow South Africans David Frost and Retief Goosen.
Els didn't win in 2006. But he did manage eight Top 10 finishes in the wake of a 2005 surgery needed beause of a knee injury sustained while sailing in the Mediterranean.
Whenever a Top 10 player's equipment deal is in play, the rumor mill heats up. For a few days this week, the uncertainty as to where Els would land generated more heat than light.
Depending on who you asked Tuesday, Els was 1) ending his four-year equipment endorsement deal with Titleist, 2) signing with Callaway, 3) negotiating with Callaway but still seen wearing a Titleist hat, or 4) some version of all of the above.
But when Els teed off Thursday in Thailand, his equipment situation became clear. A few days earlier, Titleist had issued a brief statement saying Els and the company had agreed to part ways immediately, and thanking Els for his services.
But on Tuesday, a Callaway official said no deal had been signed with Els, and there was no announcement to make, at least for the moment. The same executive wouldnt comment on how negotiations were progressing, or even if they were happening at all ' thats Callaway company policy.
Titleist officials did not extend comment past the confines of their brief statement, and Els and his agent either did not return calls or could not be reached. So the reasons for Els departure remain unclear. Tour players move for many reasons, including shifting economic goals and fortunes within the companies they endorse. David Toms left Cleveland Golf and started with TaylorMade this year; Lucas Glover went from Titleist to Nike as the new season began. And, of course, sometimes player economics, not company decisions, impel a move.
Recent Titleist history confirms that although it is not afraid to use the courts or mediation to protect its brand and contract rights, in the end it doesnt insist on keeping around anyone who is determined to change. Tiger Woods began with Titleist equipment, but went to Nike in 1999 (he already had a shoe and clothing deal with the company). David Duval left in 2001 for the same destination. Phil Mickelson parted with Titleist in 2004 to move to Callaway. Titleists tour staff, although replete with solid stars, has always had more of a team feel ' no one player predominates; the whole staff advances the brand. Davis Love III may be better known than, say, Bill Haas ' but Titleist doesnt market its players in a way that shows overt preference.
Now that Els has signed with Callaway, the squad feel could increase there as well. The staff already includes Mickelson, recent Nissan Open winner Charles Howell III, and Annika Sorenstam, as well as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. It will be interesting to see how it helps the company that pioneered big, easy-to-hit drivers (with 1991s Big Bertha) to get its hands on The Big Easy.
Els short-term schedule includes the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the WGC-CA Championship at Doral on the PGA Tour, plus the Tavistock Cup in Orlando.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.