Woods Els Look to Renew Rivalry
The Big Easy, as he is called, won the Heineken Classic in Australia for his third victory of the year, giving golf what has sorely lacked the past few years ' a serious challenger to Woods.
``He has always been the guy that I thought had the ability to get better and contend for No. 1,'' said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, a golf analyst for ABC Sports.
``Ernie's knock has been heard, does he have the get-up-and-go? If there's ever a time, it might be now because of his start.''
Bringing together the top two players in the world could take some doing.
While the 32-year-old South African has been traveling around the world and winning almost everywhere he goes, Woods has been recovering from knee surgery in Florida and won't return until at least next week in San Diego.
The first tournament where both are scheduled to play is the Match Play Championship at the end of the month. They wouldn't face each other until the finals, and the top two seeds rarely advance all the way in 18-hole matches.
The following week, both are supposed to play the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates. Those prospects are in doubt as the United States moves closer to war.
Els is in no hurry.
``It will come to a head sooner or later, and you guys are probably going to write it up quite a bit now,'' Els said. ``I'm going to stick to my guns. Hopefully, with this form I'll have a good chance of playing against any field.''
Despite winning two U.S. Opens, Els was in jeopardy of becoming known as Woods' favorite whipping boy.
No one has been runner-up to Woods more often than Els ' six times ' including four tournaments in 2000 when Woods shattered one record after another.
Els began working with sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout and decided to worry more about his own game than whether it was good enough to beat Woods.
He held off Woods at Doral last year, added his third major at the British Open and then really took off. He has won five of his last seven tournaments dating to the World Match Play Championship in England, where he shot a 60 early in the event.
``I kept it going,'' he said. ``This game is quite amazing sometimes.''
He finished last year by winning the unofficial Nedbank Challenge in South Africa by eight strokes over Colin Montgomerie.
This year, only his equipment and endorsement deals changed.
Els blitzed the winners-only field at Kapalua to win by eight strokes at 31 under par, a PGA Tour record. The next week in Honolulu, he won on the second playoff hole over Aaron Baddeley with a 55-foot birdie putt from the fringe.
Just when it seemed his global travels were catching up with him, Els shot 66-65 for the weekend at Royal Melbourne to win by one over Nick Faldo and Peter Lonard.
It was reminiscent of when Woods recovered from a 10-stroke deficit to win the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany two years ago, closing with 63-66.
``This one is good ... sweet,'' Els said. ``I haven't come from behind for quite some time.''
The only blip was at the Singapore Masters, where Els blew a final-round lead and lost to unheralded Zhang Lian-Wei of China with a bogey on the last hole.
Still, Els is leading the money list on the PGA Tour and on the European tour, and Woods will have some catching up to do when he returns.
``Don't think Tiger isn't chomping at the bit,'' said Strange, who has talked with Woods during the past few weeks. ``He doesn't miss a thing. I still think Ernie has to be sharp to beat him, but the gap looks smaller because Ernie is playing so well.''
There has been a revolving door of rivals for Woods, starting with Els.
He won his second U.S. Open immediately after Woods won the '97 Masters with a record score (270) by a record margin (12 shots).
Woods made up eight strokes on Els in the final round of the Johnnie Walker Classic in 1998 to win in a playoff. Els responded one month later by putting 13 strokes between him and Woods during a 36-hole Sunday at Bay Hill.
Since then, however, it has been all Woods.
David Duval won 11 times in 34 tournaments to replace Woods at No. 1 briefly in 1999. Phil Mickelson has won more tournaments than anyone but Woods over the last five years.
Still, no one has served up such a tantalizing threat.
``It's certainly going to be interesting,'' Strange said. ``It has nothing to do with rooting against Tiger. As a player, I want to see Tiger pushed. I want to see how good he can be. I don't think golf needs this, but it's going to be good.''
Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys
After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.
There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.
It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.
“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.
In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.
Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”
Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.
“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.
Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.
If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.
For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.
Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.
Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.
While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.
When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?
Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.
After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.
The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.
That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.
The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.
While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.
Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.
Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.
“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.
Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain
The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.
Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.
"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."
Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.
Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.
Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.