Big Easy Still Gunning for No 1

By Associated PressOctober 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
THOMASTOWN, Ireland -- Ernie Els is familiar with his position in the world ranking, but not the scenery. He no longer is looking up at Tiger Woods.
 
'Yeah, it's nice,' the Big Easy said after winning the American Express Championship. 'But I'm still No. 2.'
 
Maybe not for long.
 
Els managed to pick himself up from a heartbreaking season of majors by winning his first World Golf Championship title Sunday to move ahead of Woods in the world ranking, leaving him only 1.66 points behind No. 1 Vijay Singh.

Woods headed for the Caribbean amid reports he was getting married and will play only three more tournaments the rest of the year, one of them in Japan where the world ranking points will not be as great since he no longer is No. 1.
 
Els and Singh probably will face each other four more times this year.
 
They are very close friends, having joined the PGA Tour one year apart. But while Els concedes Singh is having the best year in golf, the next step to No. 1 doesn't seem as daunting.
 
For one thing, Woods built an enormous lead during his five-year reign, courtesy of winning seven out of 11 majors over four seasons. And that also came with a mystique that no longer exists.

'I think definitely the gap will not be the same with Vijay as it was with Tiger, that's for sure,' Els said.
 
Still, that won't make the climb to No. 1 any easier.
 
Singh has won eight times this year on the PGA Tour, only the fifth player to do that since 1960. Els won at Mount Juliet for his third tour victory and fourth worldwide. (He won the Heineken Classic in Australia in February over Adam Scott.)
 
'Vijay has got so much talent. He works so hard,' Els said. 'To get to where he is right now is hard work, and I don't think he's going to let it slip. But Tiger had such a big lead. He had two years like Vijay had this year. If Vijay keeps playing like that, he'll obviously be very tough to beat.
 
'But I don't think there's going to be that gap like Tiger opened up,' he said. 'So no, it's not going to be as tough.'
 
Both were scheduled to play this week at the Dunhill Links Championships, the European tour version of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. They will be the top seeds next week at Wentworth for the World Match Play Championship, where world ranking points will be available for the first time.
 
Els will return to the PGA Tour at the end of the month for the Chrysler Championship in Tampa, Fla., and the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta. With Singh in the field, world ranking points will be high.
 
Singh and Els both got caught up in the chase for No. 1 earlier this year.
 
When the Fijian first started closing in on Woods in February, he missed the cut at the Buick Invitational and went nearly three months before his next victory. He was within a victory of getting to No. 1 in May after winning New Orleans and Houston in consecutive weeks, then went another three months without winning.
 
Singh later admitted he was thinking too much about No. 1 and not what it takes to get there.
 
Els, too, had two chances to get to No. 1 this summer by winning the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. He was two shots behind going into the final round at Shinnecock Hills and shot 80, and he made a bogey on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits to miss the PGA playoff by one shot.
 
'Another aspect of my summer was that the No. 1 spot was there,' Els said. 'I was very close. My main concern was to really try and win a tournament. But definitely, it was in my mind.'
 
Still, he is not afraid to think about being No. 1. And it might not be as big of a deal as it was to Singh since Els has been there before, reaching the top spot for nine weeks during the 1998 season.
 
'The more you win, the easier it will come,' the South African said.
 
Victories rarely come easy to Els.
 
The only easy time he had this year was at the Memorial, and even then he had to turn in a magnificent short-game exhibition for a four-shot victory.
 
He won the Sony Open in a playoff over Harrison Frazer. He lost a nine-shot lead against Scott at Royal Melbourne in the final round before recovering to win. And Sunday might have been the toughest day of all.
 
Considering his close calls in all four majors, and how much that took out of him, Els was under tremendous pressure not to let this one get away. Thomas Bjorn applied the pressure immediately and never went away during a cold, rainy day in southeastern Ireland.
 
Els responded each time, never let Bjorn closer than one shot during the final round and finally put him away with a clutch birdie on the 17th hole for a two-shot lead. That allowed Els a bogey on the final hole for a one-shot win.
 
'I had a lot more pressure on me, more than anybody in the field,' Els said. 'All in all, very rewarding.'
 
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.


Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

Getty Images

Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

“It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

“There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

“It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”

Getty Images

J. Korda leads M. Jutanugarn by four in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 3:00 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand - Jessica Korda kept an eye on her younger sister while firing a 4-under 68 in the third round of the LPGA Thailand on Saturday to lead Moriya Jutanugarn by four strokes.

A day after a course-record 62 at Siam Country Club, Korda fought back from a bogey on the front nine with five birdies to finish on 20-under 196 overall. The American was on the 18th hole when concerns over lightning suspended play for 30 minutes before play resumed.

''(I) was playing really well at the end of the season, but I haven't been in this (leading) position. Being back, it just takes you a little bit of time,'' said the 24-year-old Korda, who won her fifth and last title at the LPGA Malaysia in 2015.

Her 19-year-old sister Nelly Korda (65) is eight shots off the lead.


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


''I'm definitely a leaderboard watcher. I love seeing her name up there,'' said Jessica Korda, who was playing her first tournament since jaw surgery.

Propelled by eight birdies and an eagle on the par-4 No. 14, with three bogeys, Moriya signed off with a 65 and a total of 16-under 200.

''Everybody has the chance to win as all the top players are here this week,'' said Moriya, who has a chance to become the first Thai winner in her home tournament.

Australian Minjee Lee (68) is third on 15-under 201, followed by former top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (65) on 202. Lexi Thompson (69), the 2016 champion, is a stroke further back. Michelle Wie (69) is tied for sixth.

Brittany Lincicome was in second place after the second round, four shots behind Jessica Korda, but the American dropped down the board and is tied for ninth after a 73.

Getty Images

The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.