Els Misses Major Opportunity

By Associated PressApril 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Munching on an apple, working on his putting for a playoff that would never come, Ernie Els watched helplessly as the Masters moment he's dreamed of disappeared.
While Phil Mickelson celebrated victory with his family, Els gave his putter a dejected flip and walked away, an aching void in his heart that only a win at Augusta National will fill.
'It's very tough for me to explain how I feel right now,' a somber Els said Sunday night, after missed birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes left him one stroke behind Mickelson. 'I just said to my wife and my dad, 'I gave it my absolute best, especially today.' I'm very disappointed now, but I'll get over this. I feel like I'll win a major this year.
'I would have loved to have won this one.'
The 34-year-old is one of the best players of his generation, already a three-time major winner.
But the Masters has always held a special place for him. He used to stay up deep into the night half a world away to watch it with his father, and he's dreamed of winning it since he was 8, when fellow South African Gary Player put on the green jacket.
He had felt all week that this was finally his year, and it seemed as if he might be right after making two eagles in a closing 5-under-par 67, his best round of the week. But just like in 2000, when he finished second to Vijay Singh after squandering birdie chances on his final three holes, it wasn't meant to be.
The pain would be the same, regardless. But adding to the agony was the 20 minutes he had to wait between his finish and Mickelson's approach to the 18th green. Els couldn't bear to watch, knowing there was absolutely nothing he could do.
'You've done what you've done. I played as good as I could. You're just ...' He paused, trying to find the right words. 'You're there in another guy's hands.'
And after falling spectacularly short so many times, Mickelson finally broke through. He drained an 18-footer for birdie to win his first major, setting off a raucous celebration on the green as Els quietly slipped away.
'I'll have another shot,' he said. 'I'm sure of it.'
But he will wonder about these missed opportunities. Beginning the day three strokes behind Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, Els' game was sputtering until an eagle on the par-5 No. 8 gave him the lead.
His second shot hit a ridge on the left side of the green and trickled down to settle 5 feet from the hole. He had to scramble to save par when his second shot on No. 9 went six rows into the gallery behind the green, but he made it look easy with a chip shot a few feet below the pin.
He moved to 7 under - two strokes ahead of Mickelson - with another eagle on the par-5 13th, knocking the ball to 12 feet from 206 yards out. He followed with a gutty save on 14 after driving into the trees.
Then came what might have been the defining two holes in the tournament, had he won. On a slope behind the 15th green, Els chipped within 1 foot, tapping in for a birdie that put him at 8 under.
At 16, he left himself 45 feet on a huge-breaking, right-to-left downhiller. He ran the first putt 10 feet past but made the comebacker to save par.
'I was trying to push,' he said. 'I was hitting the ball very solid. I was feeling so good out there, I felt I could have birdied every hole the way I was playing.'
But he didn't. He two-putted from 17 feet on the par-4 17th, then missed a 25-footer by eight inches on 18. As the ball skittered past the hole, a grim look crossed his face.
'I'm going to look myself in the mirror tonight and say, 'Well done,'' Els said. 'It's one of those things. That's golf. I've had some good wins and I've had some tough losses, and this is one of the tough losses.'
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - The Masters Tournament
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

    Getty Images

    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.