Success this season has Ernie Els at ease

By Associated PressApril 8, 2010, 2:35 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ernie Els shook hands with fans between holes, and stopped to take a picture with one on his way up the 17th fairway. He even posed with a “Flat Stanley” as he made his way to the putting green.

Don’t make too big a deal of it, but the Big Easy is feeling mighty at ease at this Masters.

“I don’t want to get too overconfident,” Els said Wednesday at the Par-3 tournament. “But at least I’ve brought a little game here.”

That’s a bit of an understatement.

The three-time major champion comes to Augusta National playing his best golf in years. He ended a two-year drought at the World Golf Championship at Doral, then became the tour’s only double winner two weeks later with a victory at Bay Hill. It was the first time Els had won back-to-back tournaments in seven years.

He has four top-10 finishes in his eight PGA Tour starts this year, and has climbed to eighth in the world rankings, up nine spots from where he finished last season.

“I haven’t been in this kind of form coming in here for many years,” Els said.

Not that it’s drawn much notice. Els, Steve Stricker, Anthony Kim—no one is getting anything more than a cursory glance with Tiger Woods playing his first tournament since the shocking sex scandal that turned the world’s most famous athlete into tabloid fodder. Even defending Masters champion Angel Cabrera was able to walk by a group of reporters without being stopped Tuesday. They were all too busy keeping an eye out for Mark O’Meara, Woods’ playing partner Tuesday and Wednesday.

“People are not going to be talking about who’s in form until probably Thursday morning when we start the event,” Els, who didn’t make the cut for the formal pre-tournament interviews, said after his win at Bay Hill. “It’s going to be all about Tiger and him coming back and everything. So I think we will all be sideshows until Thursday morning. And I think we’re fine with that. Everybody is fine with that.”

It might be the best thing for Els, actually.

The South African is a two-time winner at the U.S. Open (1994 and 1997), and he won the 2002 British Open at Muirfield. But it was the Masters that he stayed up late to watch as a youngster in South Africa, and it’s the tournament closest to Els’ heart.

And it’s also the one that has broken it—repeatedly.

He was runner-up to Vijay Singh in 2000 because he couldn’t get a putt to drop over his last three holes. After top-10 finishes the next three years, he thought 2004 was finally going to be his year. Seemed it, too, when he took a two-stroke lead on Phil Mickelson with an eagle—his second of the day—on the par-5 13th.

But he two-putted for a par on 17 and drove into a bunker so deep on 18 he couldn’t even see the flag, then had to wait out Mickelson in hopes of a playoff. Unable to watch, he munched on an apple and then headed to the putting green.

He didn’t see Mickelson make the 18-foot birdie putt that gave him his green jacket, but he heard the raucous cheers. Els tossed his putter aside and quietly walked away.

“It’s disappointing,” he said then. “I’ve got to take stock after this.”

In the years that followed, there were some who wondered if he would recover. Though he went on to win the Memorial in 2004, it was one of only three victories until this year. His slump between the 2008 Honda Classic and Doral was the longest of his career.

Meanwhile at the Masters, he hasn’t made the cut the last three years.

“It’s always in my head this time of the year,” Els said at Bay Hill. “You try and downplay it, but you do think about it.”

Maybe that’s why he got testy when approached after Wednesday’s practice round.

“I just feel good,” Els said. “Give me a break. What can I tell you?”

Els had been decidedly relaxed during the round, laughing and joking with fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, and Australia’s Marc Leishman. He tipped his cap when fans yelled out, “This is the year!” and “Win this thing, Ernie. Come on!” And when a fan waiting in the crosswalk on the 17th fairway jokingly asked if he could get a picture, Els obliged.

“He was pretty low-key,” Leishman said, “talking about anything but golf.”

But his friends know the real score—for Els, it’s all about golf.

“He’s hitting it pretty good,” Leishman said. “He’ll be hard to beat.”

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.