Els Ready to Shift Gears at Bay Hill

By Associated PressMarch 15, 2006, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ernie Els wanted to ease his way into the season, careful not to play too hard too fast as he continues to recover from knee surgery that knocked him out of golf the last five months of the year.
 
The second week of April'the Masters'thats when he wanted to be ready to sprint.
 
In that respect, Els believes he is on pace.
 
He had a chance to win the Dubai Desert Classic, making a birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Tiger Woods, then losing when Els hit his approach into the water. For someone who has lost to Woods more than anyone, Els wasnt terribly disturbed. He knew he wasnt fully ready.
 
Success has been moderate on the PGA Tour'a tie for 23rd in the Nissan Open and a tie for seventh two weeks ago at Doral, along with his traditional first-round exit from the Match Play Championship.
 
But as the Bay Hill Invitational gets under way Thursday, Els is ready to shift gears.
 
I really want to get back into winning tournaments and competing, play the way that I know I can, he said Wednesday. After last week and the tournaments Ive played, I know where I am with my game. I know where I am with my knee. And Im basically ready to step it up a little bit now.
 
Els and Woods headline a top-heavy field at Bay Hill, which features seven of the top 10 players. Joining them from among the top six in the world are Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia.
 
They will be tested by a Bay Hill Club course that appears to be firmer than usual, with rough so thick tournament host Arnold Palmer was beaming.
 
Tour officials recently set the mower height to 31/2 inches, which Palmer grudgingly accepted, but hes certain the grass is consistently deep enough that anyone who misses the fairways will pay for it. Woods figures that might be the case, saying it would be hit or miss whether you can get a good lie.
 
Is the grass so thick and high that Woods cant advance a 9-iron?
 
I can hit 9-iron out, he said. How far? Its a different story.
 
Woods will be trying to continue building his momentum toward the Masters when the Bay Hill Invitational starts Thursday under what is expected to be dry conditions. He already has won three times in five starts this year, two of those on the PGA Tour and once in Dubai on the European tour.
 
Bay Hill brings good vibes, a place where he won four straight times until his streak was broken in 2003. He also won the first of three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles at Bay Hill, despite hitting his drive out-of-bounds on the 18th with a 1-up lead, winning in extra holes.
 
Its one of those golf courses that fits your eye, Woods said, a phrase he also throws around at Torrey Pines, where he won this year for the fourth time. Not too many golf courses you play all year that you have that happen, but this is certainly one of those for me.
 
Kenny Perry wont be back to defend his title at Bay Hill because of knee surgery this week that will keep him off the PGA Tour at least through April. Perry won on a rain-soaked Bay Hill, which required four rounds to be played over three days, the tournament ending when Vijay Singh rinsed his approach in the water on the 18th.
 
Els doesnt have many fond memories of last year.
 
He was paired with part of the Big Five'Woods and Goosen'and after keeping pace with a 71, he soared to a 77 in the second round and had to rally over the final 36 holes simply to tie for 23rd.
 
The 36-year-old South African has rarely played well here, except for 1998, when he was grouped with Woods and Davis Love III over the 36-hole Sunday and smoked both of them.
 
That was the only time he has seriously contended, surprising for a guy who has been playing since 1993, when Palmer offered him an exemption.
 
Ive had my battles around this golf course, he said.
 
The bigger battle now is his patience'not getting too far ahead of himself, believing hes on schedule, trying not to look at the calendar toward April 3, the Monday of the Masters.
 
Els decided not to go home for a week to London, instead playing two days at Augusta National to get adjusted to the changes, then headed to fabled Seminole Golf Club in south Florida, and over to Jack Nicklaus golf course, appropriately called The Bears Club.
 
They call him the Big Easy, but anyone who spends any time around Els knows he can be hard on himself. It is important to have a good group around him, such as wife Liezl, to remind him to stay the course.
 
They keep on reminding me, Listen, were not worried about now; were looking at the second week of April. Lets crawl before we have to walk, that kind of thing. But as a competitor, its hard to explain. You just want to be there. You want to be in the mix all the time.
 
Where is he now?
 
Im jogging at the moment, Els said, breaking into that easy smile.
 
Related Links:
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  • Full Coverage - Bay Hill Invitational
  • 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 GolfChannel.com 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