DORAL, Fla. – Ernie Els was in the lead and off the golf course, and he wasn’t sure which made him feel better.
Rushing to finish as dark clouds gathered over the Blue Monster, Els made one last birdie for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead over Robert Allenby before heavy rain temporarily halted play Friday in the CA Championship.
Eighteen players had to wait nearly three hours before they could resume the second round. When it finally ended, Els had his first lead after any round on U.S. soil since he won the Honda Classic two years ago.
“It’s in the books, and we were pretty lucky to get done,” he said. “We ran the last two holes just to get in the house.”
He was at 10-under 134, courtesy of three straight birdies early in his round, when his shotmaking was supreme, and how he held it together when the wind and weather changed quickly and dramatically.
Els was standing over his tee shot on the par-3 fourth when he felt a gust, not unusual except that this one felt cold.
“I’m just about to pull the club back and I just felt this chill come over. And I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ And the wind just changed right there,” he said.
He came up short of the green and scrambled for par.
“Very, very strange,” Els said. “I think the only other time I had that happen was in Scotland when the tide changed. Other than that, I’ve never seen that happen.”
Allenby was tied for the lead until a three-putt from 50 feet in rain so strong he could barely see the flag. The bogey gave him a 67 and will put him in the final group with Els on Saturday.
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, whose father once competed with Els, got up-and-down for par behind the 18th green when the round resumed to finish off a 70. He was at 7-under 137, along with Bob Hope Classic champion Bill Haas, who had a 66.
Padraig Harrington (68) and Soren Hansen (69) were at 6-under 138, while defending champion Phil Mickelson had a 69 and was six shots out of the lead at 140.
Allenby’s moment with the weather came on his 11th hole, the 404-yard second, which some players can reach off the tee with the wind at the back. Allenby chose a 5-wood to play conservatively, and he was expecting to hit a wedge. The wind reversed direction as his ball was in the air, and when he got to his ball, Allenby had to hit a 6-iron from 147 yards.
It was so bizarre that Allenby and Lucas Glover each hit 5-wood. Then the wind switched and Jim Furyk, the last to play in their group, had to hit driver. He still didn’t get it past them.
“It got tricky, that’s for sure,” Allenby said.
Allenby’s round featured a pair of eagles – one of them a 7-iron from the right rough on the downwind, par-5 first hole to about 12 feet, the other a 5-wood for a hole-in-one on the difficult par-3 13th, which played 232 yards into the wind.
He also had a few blunders, playing out of the sand far too much on the 16th hole on his way to double bogey and his final bogey.
Els, who lives a block away from Allenby in Palm Beach Country, was far more consistent. He had to scramble for a few pars right about the time the weather shifted, but otherwise was close to flawless.
That was a sharp change from last week at the Honda Classic, when he failed to break par and finished at the bottom of the pack. The Big Easy put in some big work over the weekend and all the way until it was time to tee off in this World Golf Championship. It’s something he has battled his entire career, falling into bad habits as his alignment, posture and stance gets out of sync.
By Wednesday, he started feeling everything fall back into place. Through two rounds, he is getting the most important feedback.
Els turned 40 last fall. Although he doesn’t believe his career is winding down, he feels refreshed and rested from a reduced travel schedule and wants to be sure his game is sharp.
“When you are like that mentally, you want to have a bit of game with that,” he said. “So that’s why I really wanted to get my mechanics right and give myself a really good chance. If I can get those two flowing, I think I might have some good stuff happening.”
He was at his best early in the round, starting with a 7-iron from the rough to 4 feet on the 14th hole. He followed with a 7-iron to about 10 feet, then a wedge that settled 2 feet from the hole on the 16th.