The Big Uneasy

By Brian HewittMay 9, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Its all starting to speed up now for Ernie Els. The Big Easy will turn the big 38 in October. And the syncopated cacophony in his ear is the ticking sound of his biological/competitive clock.
 
Youve got to learn from those mistakes, Els said Wednesday on the eve of THE PLAYERS Championship at the feared Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. But they dont really leave you.
 
There will always be a big kid element to Els. And thats a good thing. But the closer a man gets to 40, the quicker things like missed opportunities start flying by. After 40, sports careers, even in golf, begin moving in fast forward.
 
The mistakes Els was talking about are missed opportunities in majors. He was tantalizingly close at the 1995 PGA Championship and a couple of others. I had many chances in the 90s, he said.
 
And then there was the 2004 Masters snatched from his potential grasp when Phil Mickelson holed a walk-off birdie on the 72nd hole to shut Els out of a playoff. I think 2004 (the Masters), up to now, is still the most disappointing of all the disappointments so to speak, he said.
 
Els currently ranks No. 5 in the world and he is, well, uneasy about that. I think physically Im ready again, he said. Im fine. My knee is fine. My back.everything is pretty good. Ive got new enthusiasm. His T-8 here last year was his best PLAYERS' finish in 10 years.
 
Its just that the three major championships he has won'1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional and 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield'arent as many as he thought hed have by now.
 
For that matter, Els hasnt won on the PGA TOUR in the U.S. since the 2004 Memorial, three full years ago. And with next months U.S. Open back at Oakmont, Els drought is going to come into focus and under more scrutiny.
 
More than anyone else, you can make the case that Els and Mickelson, 37 in June, have paid the stiffest prices for living in the time of Tiger Woods. You know we all thought he (Woods) set the bar a little higher back in 2000, Els said. We never thought he was going to do it like that again.
 
But, Els added, you know talent is never going to go away.
 
Woods talent has returned with a vengeance. He and instructor Hank Haney have synched to the tune of nine victories in Tigers last 12 PGA TOUR events.
 
Any time you beat him (Woods), said current Masters champion Zach Johnson Wednesday, regardless of the situation, regardless if its a TOUR event or a major, it doesnt matter. Its just a good feeling.
 
And its a feeling Els craves more than anyone else right now, and that includes Mickelson. If you can win consistently with him (Woods) around, youre really performing well, Els said.
 
Its just that Els knows he doesnt have as much time left to do what he always thought he would as a boy growing up in South Africa. I always felt quite confident that I eventually would win majors, he said. I always had dreams of winning quite a few.
 
Els almost returned to the winners circle at Hilton Head earlier this year. He opened with a pair of 65s but followed with 71-70 which allowed Boo Weekleys two late chip-ins to stun everybody (including Boo) and capture the Verizon Heritage.
 
So the victory watch continues for Els. And it eats at him.
 
Its amazing, he said, how time flies out here.
 
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    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.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    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.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    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.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.