Big Goals for Big Easy

By Associated PressOctober 25, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Chrysler ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Ernie Els has never missed the season-ending TOUR Championship when playing a full schedule with a healthy body, so he jotted that down as part of his global schedule when laying out his plans for the year.
But not everything has gone according to plan.
Els thought the Chrysler Championship might be a good place for him to get ready for East Lake next week. But at No. 30 on the PGA TOUR money list, he needs a good week at Innisbrook simply to get into the TOUR Championship. He only has a $53,000 margin over Tim Clark at No. 31, knowing that any of the 60 guys behind him could win and potentially knock him out.
'I really don't want to miss it,' Els said Wednesday. 'Finishing in the top 30 would give you something. I haven't had too much to grab onto this year. I've had some good finishes outside of the U.S. In the U.S. itself, I haven't really been up to my best.'
Els is back in the United States for the first time in two months. Now, the goal is to stay two weeks.
Since joining the PGA TOUR in 1994, the year he won his first U.S. Open, Els has missed the TOUR Championship only one time. That was in 1998, when his season was hampered by back injuries.
Els is not alone in his pursuit of secondary gains at the Chrysler Championship, which starts Thursday at Innisbrook.
This is the final full-field tournament of the year, one last chance for players to either get into the TOUR Championship (top 30 on the money list) or the Masters (top 40). Perhaps more critical is keeping a job for next year, and that will be decided by the top 125 for full status and the top 150 for conditional status.
The odd man out appeared to be Bubba Dickerson.
He had a chance to sew up his card last week until a 72-78 weekend at Disney moved him up to No. 125. But with such a low standing, he was the third alternate at Innisbrook, and milling around the locker room, he was losing hope that three guys would pull out of the event over the next 24 hours.
Dickerson, a former U.S. Amateur champion, blamed no one but himself.
'I could have taken care of it last week,' he said. 'I wouldn't be in this situation if I had played better golf. It's tough to take.'
He could still keep his position, but it's unlikely. Any of the three guys behind him on the money list only have to make the cut to give Dickerson one more tournament this year -- the final stage of Q-school.
'I would walk away from here thinking I'm toast,' he said.
For Els, more troubling than his precarious position on the money list is the fact he hasn't hoisted a trophy all year, anywhere around the world. He lost a playoff to Tiger Woods in Dubai. He was one shot behind Woods going into the third round at the British Open, but wound up in third place, five shots behind.
As much as the Big Easy would love to be at the TOUR Championship next week, he has a bigger goal in mind. Els loves starting the year in Hawaii at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and the only way to get there is to win.
'That's the urgency I want,' he said.
But even Kapalua is but one small step toward a grandiose goal. Els believes he lost his focus this year, spending too much time worrying about what happened in the past instead of paying attention to what he can accomplish in the future.
Perhaps no other elite player from his generation has endured more crushing losses than the 37-year-old South African. Two years ago, he missed playoffs in the Masters and PGA Championship by one shot, and lost in a playoff at the British Open. The other major that year was the U.S. Open, where he played in the final group and shot 80.
Then came the knee injury last July while boating in the Mediterranean, which cost him the final three months of the PGA TOUR season. Els returned sooner than expected, but still had trouble earlier this year trusting that his knee would hold up.
'It's not like I've fallen off the map completely,' Els said. 'I haven't been consistent; I know that. But I don't want to read too much into it. I want to get back and forget about the past and start moving forward toward my goal.'
The TOUR Championship would be a start. Kapalua would be even sweeter.
But he has a bigger blueprint in mind. Els said he has given himself a 'realistic goal' for the next three years, which will require dedication to his body and his mind.
Why three years? Els smiled, as if he was going to keep that to himself. But what he said next made it clear that he has not given up his pursuit of returning to No. 1 in the world.
'If you look at where the No. 1 player is right now, you're not going to get near him in one year or two years,' Els said. 'So I've got to give myself a three-year stretch to try to approach him.'
Els has not been No. 1 since 1998, and he could have reached the top twice in 2004 with victories in either the British Open or the PGA Championship. He has slipped to No. 7, and needs a telescope to bring Woods into view.
'For a good four, five, six years here, I played at a very high level,' Els said. 'When you get in contention, you're going to lose quite a bit, especially playing against Tiger. That's in the past. I feel good about my game. There are a lot of good things to look forward to.'
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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes