Ernie Els Back to Work After Break
Next up for the South African is the Johnnie Walker Classic, which starts Thursday and also features Sergio Garcia. The $1.68 million tournament at the par-72 course at Lake Karrinyup Country Club is sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian PGA tours.
There is some doubt, however, if Garcia can play. The 23-year-old Spaniard injured a hamstring kicking an Australian Rules football at a charity event and withdrew from a pro-am Wednesday.
'I'm going to keep treating it and I will go and hit some balls as well and we will see how I feel,' Garcia said. 'Whatever happens, I won't make any decision about playing until tomorrow.'
Els, winner of the Johnnie Walker in 1997, opened this year with back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour, then blew a lead in the final round to finish runner-up at the Caltex Masters in Singapore.
Just when it appeared fatigue set in, with Els 10 strokes off the pace going into the weekend at the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne two weeks ago, he shot 66-65 in the last two rounds to overtake Nick Faldo and Peter Lonard for the title.
With his eight-stroke win in the Mercedes Championship and his playoff win over Aaron Baddely in the Sony Open, Els completed the 'Hawaii 2-0' to surge to the top of the 2003 money list in the opening two weeks.
His win at the Heineken gave him five wins in seven tournaments and also helped close the gap on Tiger Woods, who has been sidelined following knee surgery.
Garcia knows that even if his leg were in good shape Els would be tough to beat.
'Ernie has been playing unbelievable golf,' he said. 'He's done something the last three months that I don't think anyone has done before.'
Retief Goosen won this event by eight strokes last year, despite a 1-over 73 in the final round. The South African has had two top-four finishes in three starts this year but his consistency has been overshadowed by his compatriot.
Also in the field is Nick Faldo, who won the Johnnie Walker in 1990 and '93, and 1996 champion Ian Woosnam.
Lee Westwood, the European tour leader in 2000, was a late addition. He will join young English trio Justin Rose, Nick Dougherty and Paul Casey, who won the ANZ Championship in Sydney last weekend.
Robert Allenby will lead the Australians, along with Craig Parry and Adam Scott. For Asia, there's Joyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal, both of India.
Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters
Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.
Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.
In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.
Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.
“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”
Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking.
Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup
In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.
Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.
Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
September can’t get here quick enough.
Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.
There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.
In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.
“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”
The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”
Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.
Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.
The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.
The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.
“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.
Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.
After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.
It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.
Tweet of the week:
Welp I didn’t get hit by a ballistic missile today so that’s a plus! #imalive— John Peterson (@JohnPetersonFW) January 14, 2018
It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”
The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.
Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”