Wild Day at Troon for Big Easy

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- A shot he thought was short turned out to be an ace. Then, with a chance to grab a share of the lead, Ernie Els turned a simple lie in the bunker into a big mess.

Like everyone else, Els played 18 holes in the opening round of the British Open.
When he left the course Thursday, though, you couldn't blame him for thinking only about two par-3s.
At the first, the famed Postage Stamp eighth, he was perfect. At the second, the long 17th into the wind, he looked more like a weekend hacker.
'From such a highlight on eight to such a low light on 17, it's amazing,' Els said.

Opening his bid to unseat Tiger Woods as the top player in the world this week, Els got the fans roaring Thursday morning when his wedge shot found the cup on the famed Postage Stamp hole. The Big Easy was pretty excited himself, smiling broadly and waving.
The smile was gone on the 17th when Els took two shots to get out of a greenside bunker and had to rally to salvage a double bogey on his way to an opening 2-under 69 that left him three shots off the lead.

'From really nowhere I made double bogey, so that's quite disappointing,' Els said.

Els was likely not the only one emotional about his round. One bettor liked his chances so much he wagered 62,500 British pounds on Els winning the Open.

At 8-1 odds at Ladbrokes betting house in London, that works out to 500,000 pounds, or nearly a million dollars, if Els wins.

'Him or her has a lot of money to wager,' Els said. 'But I'm feeling good about this week and I'm glad I've got fans or a betting man that's got a lot of confidence in me.'
Coming into Troon, Els had already given fans enough reasons to think hemight win his second Open title in three years. His game is sharp and the confidence he sometimes lacked is peaking after barely losing to Phil Mickelson in the Masters and playing in the final group of the U.S. Open.

He's got more at stake than just getting his name on the claret jug for the second time in this Open. If Els wins and Woods finishes worse than 16th, Els would supplant him as the No. 1 player in the world rankings.

That certainly seemed a possibility when his wedge spun into the hole at the 123-yard Postage Stamp, named because of the tiny green that sits on a mound next to the Firth of Clyde, surrounded by deep pot bunkers.

'That was beautiful, I'll tell you,' Els said.

Els was 1 under when he arrived at the hole, and 3 under when he left. If he hadn't listened to his caddie, though, he may have overshot the green entirely.

A slight breeze was in his face when caddie Ricci Roberts talked Els into hitting a wedge instead of the 9-iron he was thinking about.

'I hit it really solid, and as I hit it, I was just saying to the ball, `Get up, get up, get up'' Els said. 'And it bounced nice and hard and it had a lot of check on it.'

The ball actually bounced three times, then spun sideways and backwards into the hole. It was the seventh ace of Els' tournament career, and second in a major championship.

Els got to 4 under with a birdie from 15 feet on the 11th hole and seemed assured to be among the leaders when his 5-iron on the 222-yard 17th went into the left greenside bunker. Els had a bit of a downhill lie in the bunker, but wasn't overly concerned about getting it over the steep face.

His first try, though, hit the face and bounced back in the sand. With an even more difficult shot this time, he played it just short of the front of the green and two-putted from there for a double bogey.

'It wasn't the most difficult shot I've ever had in my life and I just messed it up,' he said. 'I thinned it into the bank in front of me and I tried to get it out, which I did, and made five.'
A five and a one makes six, of course, meaning the highs and lows of the two par-3s evened themselves out. Els could have made two pars on the holes, but then he wouldn't have something to talk about.
He finished the first day as a looming presence only three shots off the lead. A proven contender and winner, he did nothing to harm his chances to win this Open title.
Still, there was plenty of time to ponder what might have been as Els waits for his afternoon tee time Friday.

'I don't know what I was thinking there,' he said. 'I've had a lot tougher shots than that in my life and I just messed it up this time.'
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    After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

    Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

    On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

    Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

    After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

    Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

    A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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    Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

    By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

    PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

    At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

    “The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

    Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

    Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

    “Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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    Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

    By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

    PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

    Laura Davies won the day.

    It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

    Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

    Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

    For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

    In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

    “I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

    At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

    “It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

    Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

    “It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

    With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

    “People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

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    Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

    “Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

    She also relished showing certain fans something.

    “Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

    Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

    In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

    Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

    “The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

    After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

    “I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

    Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

    In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

    “I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

    And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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    Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

    The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

    “Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

    After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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    Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

    “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”