Ernie Els looks for redemption at Kapalua

By Associated PressJanuary 8, 2009, 5:00 pm
PGA TourKAPALUA, Hawaii ' Ernie Els holds a scoring record on the Plantation Course at Kapalua that will be tough to break, winning the Mercedes-Benz Championship five years ago at 31-under par for an eight-shot victory.
What he tries to forget was his last trip to Maui.
Needing only a birdie on the par-5 closing hole to force a playoff in 2005, he hit his tee shot so far to the right that it vanished into the native grasses and cost him the tournament. Even more painful is that he has not been back to Kapalua since then.
We dont want to talk about that, he said with easy laughter.
Els did not win another PGA Tour event until the Honda Classic last March, a stunning drought for someone of his caliber, a player who was No. 1 in the world, has won three majors and had won somewhere around the globe every year but one since 1991.
What went wrong?
Everyone knows about the blow to his psyche in 2004 when he had a chance to win all four majors and came away empty, followed by the knee injury while boating in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2005, and returning too early from surgery to repair torn ligaments.
But it goes beyond the golf.
Ive had a lot of things that Ive had to kind of put in place away from golf, Els said. Theres been a lot of things happen in our family. Thats been more important than anything else. You guys report on golf all the time. You dont report on the whole picture. So being I wouldnt say distracted, but taking care of more important things has taken my focus away a little bit.
Els didnt go into many details, but the biggest adjustment was going public last year with news that his son, Ben, has been diagnosed with autism. The South African has become a voice to find a cure for autism, and last year he moved his family from London to south Florida for the schooling.
At age 39, he is starting to feel at peace, in control and refreshed about the new year.

MORE FROM MAUI: The 2009 season begins on Thursday when Marc Turnesa, among the 33 tour winners who have gathered at Kapalua, hits the opening tee shot on a mountainous course that is unlike any they will see the rest of the year.
Els skipped some of the South African tournaments he typically plays in December, except for the South African Open, and he will package his global travels slightly to ease the wear-and-tear.
Even with a focus on so many young players'Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas, Adam Scott'and the return of Tiger Woods sometime in the spring, Els wants to return to getting the most out of his talent.
I want to inch myself along, play each round, each tournament, he said. Ive got a lot of talent, and if I get all of this stuff together, things can start falling into place again.
His mood is helped by the company he keeps.
The only way to play at Kapalua is to win the previous year on the PGA Tour, which was not easy even when Woods skipped the final three months of the regular season with reconstructive knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open.
Only six players in the field were at the Mercedes-Benz Championship last year'defending champion Daniel Chopra, Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard, K.J. Choi, Boo Weekley and Zach Johnson.
Then again, four winners decided not to make the trip. Woods is still recovering from his knee surgery; Phil Mickelson stopped coming in 2002; Garcia (a past champion at Kapalua) had to skip because he lives in Spain and is playing next week in Abu Dhabi; and double major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland is in the middle of his winter break.
Those are the top four players in the world, which doesnt look good for a tour trying to put on its best face in a weakened economy. Even so, there is plenty of star power on the rugged coast of Maui.
Kenny Perry, who will play the first round with Els, is coming off a three-victory season while turning 48 and believes he has the talent to win eight more times in the next few years, which would take him to 20 wins for his career.
Singh is coming off his FedEx Cup title, a year in which his earnings topped $18 million. It will be a short-lived appearance in Hawaii for the big Fijian, who revealed that he tore the meniscus in his right knee and will have surgery next week that will keep him out for a month.
And while Woods was away, the focus shifted to youth'especially Kim and Villegas.
Kim broke Woods scoring record at the Wachovia Championship with a five-shot victory, then won Woods tournament with a 65 at Congressional in the AT&T National. He was sixth on the PGA Tour money list and moved up 63 spots to No. 12 in the world ranking.
Villegas took baby steps until bursting through with victories in the BMW Championship and Tour Championship'both won by Woods the previous year'to finish second in the FedEx Cup and move up 49 spots to No. 7 in the world.
The 23-year-old Kim faces the highest expectations, which is fine with him.
Ive always thought that I was able to achieve some pretty high, lofty goals, Kim said. I never thought it would be any other way. I thought one day it was going to happen, and it happens to be now. Hopefully, if I just stay on the right path, Ill have a pretty bright future.
Els remembers when he was part of the younger generation. He won the U.S. Open at 24, an era that included the arrival of Mickelson, Leonard and Darren Clarke.
Fifteen years ago, I was that age, and you come through and you want to run through walls, Els said.
Maybe he has enough energy left to run through them again.

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  • Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

    By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

    A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

    In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

    “I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

    Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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    “I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

    Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

    “We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

    How does she feel?

    “I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

    Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

    New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

    By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

    Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

    She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

    “I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

    Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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    Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

    Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

    Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

    “Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

    Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

    “I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

    You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

    By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

    Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

    Race to the CME Globe

    Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

    Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

    The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

    Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

    Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

    So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

    Rolex Player of the Year

    The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

    Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

    Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

    Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

    It’s simple math.

    The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

    1st - 30 points

    2nd – 12 points

    3rd – 9 points

    4th – 7 points

    5th – 6 points

    6th – 5 points

    7rd – 4 points

    8th – 3 points

    9th – 2 points

    10th – 1 point

    Vare Trophy

    Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

    Money-winning title

    Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

    Rolex world No. 1 ranking

    World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

    Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

    At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

    Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

    By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

    Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

    ''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

    Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

    ''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

    Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

    ''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

    ''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

    ''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

    He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

    ''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

    Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

    ''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''