Bring On Ernie
The subsequent birdie putt was a foregone conclusion as was the final outcome. Woods would win easily. Phil Mickelson, two shots behind Woods at the start of the final round and playing in the same group, would dissolve in a fade-to-black collection of desultory pars. So discombobulated was Mickelson by Woods' power and cleverness after a layoff of several months, that by the time they got to the 18th hole, Mickelson forgot to let Woods walk up the green by himself.
It was an honest mistake, and one Woods didn't appear to notice. His mind was elsewhere. As in halfway across the world where Ernie Els was decimating a strong field at The Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia. Els finished 29 under par and triumphed by a numbing 10 shots. He has won five of the last tournaments he has entered. And he is 100 under par this year.
Els also has done something Woods has never done. And he has done it in the last five weeks. He has set the 72-hole scoring record (in relation to par) on the two strongest tours in the world. First, he pole-axed the PGA Tour field in early January at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, finishing 31-under (despite two double bogeys). Then this - the 29-under in Perth, an official European Tour event.
That's 60-under for two tournaments, a number with which I am not familiar. Woods wasn't in either of those fields. But Tiger has been a professional golfer since late 1996. And he has never gone that low in 72 holes on our tour or in his semi-frequent appearances on the European Tour.
What is sure to heat up in the ensuing days and weeks is the anticipation of Woods vs. Els in their first head-to-head meeting of 2003. Woods is still ranked No. 1 in the world by a large margin. Els is No. 2. But the debate will center around which of the two is playing the best golf right now.
Which brings us back to that 4-iron on the par-3 11th at Torrey Pines. At that precise moment, Woods left the Buick field in his rear view mirror. The shot wasn't so much a statement as it was an illustration of how much better he is than everybody else, except, perhaps, Els.
The next time the two will appear at the same venue is the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa. That event starts a week from Wednesday. It's unlikely the two will meet head-on because, as first and second seeds, they would both have to advance to the finals. Match play is trickier business than 72 holes of medal. Upsets occur with greater frequency. If Woods and Els do make it through, strap on your seat belt. It will be a 36-hole, duel to the death golf cage match that will need no hype.
More likely the two will square off at Bay Hill the third week of March. Then there will be The Players Championship a week later. Don't count on either going to Dubai two weeks before Bay Hill because of the threat of war in the Middle East. Two weeks after The Players is the Masters. The stakes grow.
Woods' 4-iron was a reminder. You can jump on Ernie's bandwagon right now. And you will have a lot of company. Just don't forget the kind of golf Woods is capable of producing. Especially when someone is pushing him.
Fitzpatrick one back in 2018 Euro Tour opener
HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia had six birdies and a bogey Thursday for a 5-under 65 and a one-stroke lead at the Hong Kong Open, the first event of the 2018 European Tour season.
Playing in sunny but breezy conditions at the Hong Kong Golf Club, the greens had the players struggling to gauge the approach.
''Very tough conditions today,'' Chawrasia said. ''It's very firm greens, to be honest. I'm just trying to hit the second shot on the green and trying to make it like a two-putt.''
Shubhankar Sharma and Matthew Fitzpatrick (both 66) were one shot behind, while seven others were tied for fourth a further stroke behind.
''Hit it great tee to green,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I think I had like seven or eight chances inside 15 feet, and on a day like today when it's so windy and such a tough golf course, with how tight it is, yeah, it was a good day.''
Justin Rose, who won the title in 2015, shot was 2 under with five birdies and three bogeys.
''I think the course played a couple shots harder than it typically does,'' Rose said. ''I like this course. I think it offers plenty of birdie opportunities.''
Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera Bello and defending champion Sam Brazel (69) were in a group of 16 at 1 under.
Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open
The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:
Leaderboard: Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)
What it means: Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.
Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.
Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.
Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.
Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday.
Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one
Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.
Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia
SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.
Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.
''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.
But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.
In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.
''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.
The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.
''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''
NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.