Els paves way for Oosty, Grace, Schwartzel

By Doug FergusonOctober 2, 2013, 1:20 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – Ernie Els remembers them as being a big part of his junior golf foundation in South Africa.

He referred to Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel as leaders on his junior team that traveled the country, with strong voices and a game to back it up. Oosthuizen went on to win a British Open at St. Andrews, and Schwartzel won the Masters.

Branden Grace was another youngster who came through his foundation, a kid from the Garden Route with raw power who needed some polish.

Grace was perched on a sand dune at Fancourt in fading light 10 years ago watching Els, his hero, make a tense 6-foot par putt against Tiger Woods to end the Presidents Cup in a tie.

''That is when I knew I wanted to play golf,'' Grace said.

Now they're together on the same International team at the Presidents Cup. It's a dream for Oosthuizen and Grace, and it's a bit uneasy for the Big Easy.

''We just kind of ... blended,'' Els said Tuesday after a day of team pictures and practice at Muirfield Village. ''They're pros now. They were juniors and then they were amateurs and now we're professionals and now we're playing together. It's very weird. It's hard to explain.


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''Louis and Branden and Charl, I've known them since they were so young,'' he said. ''And now they're playing on the big stage. It's quite nice.''

Oosthuizen, whose swing is regarded as one of the best in golf, is making his debut and happy to do so. He missed the past three months with pain in his lower leg, back and neck and only returned to competition last week at the Dunhill Links in Scotland.

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel were on the wrong end of a bad haircut Monday night, providing more than a few laughs in the International team room.

Then, they played together against Els and showed that there might be plenty of fight from this team that looks outmatched on paper.

''They won all the money today, the two little rascals,'' Els said, choosing his words carefully in front of the cameras. ''We had a ton of money we played for and they won the most money. Maybe they can grow their hair with that.''

The matches start Thursday at the course Jack Nicklaus built, the third time Muirfield Village has hosted an international competition – The Ryder Cup in 1987, the Solheim Cup in 1998 and now the Presidents Cup.

It looks like a mismatch on paper.

The International team has seven rookies in the Presidents Cup and only one player – Masters champion Adam Scott – in the top 10 in the world. The only American without Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup experience is 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is playing so well that he is at No. 21 in the world.

The Americans have never lost on home soil since this event began in 1994. The International team has only won once, in Australia in 1998.

Els and Scott have been the most vocal about needing to make the matches competitive – the past three have been blowouts – and see what it's like to win. Schwartzel has been around Els for a long time, and he noticed a change in his voice when the four-time major champion speaks.

''You can sense in the way he's speaking that he's really tired of being on the losing side,'' Schwartzel said. ''Even out of Adam, too. They've had enough of this.''

Even so, there is a sense of pride from Els when he sees the young Springboks.

''We got pretty lucky to get talent like that,'' Els said. ''And we've got some more talent now in our foundation again. They have really laid a great foundation. They're great kids ... well, they're not kids anymore.''

Grace was 15 when he spent a week at Fancourt in what remains the tensest Presidents Cup. It ended in a tie, and by rule, one name was pulled from an envelope to decide who won the cup – Woods and Els. They halved the first two holes as darkness fell.

Woods rolled in an 18-foot putt that broke both ways, later calling it the most nervous he had ever been. Els rolled in a 6-foot par putt that looked twice as long to halve the third extra hole. The captains declared it a tie.

As they played the 15th hole Tuesday, a video of that moment was being shown on a big screen.

''I asked Ernie, 'Listen, were you nervous over that putt?' He was like, 'Yes, I was,''' Grace said.

Oosthuizen needed the funding from Els' foundation to develop as a golfer. He was at Fancourt that weekend, but was home at Mossel Bay watching the final round on television.

The ending made a lasting impression. Then again, just about everything about Els has made a difference to him.

''He was a great guy to look up to, what he was doing in golf and the golfing world,'' Oosthuizen said. ''To play under his name and his clothing was like having your hero's shirt on. It was just good fun.''

The Presidents Cup is serious business, especially for a team that never seems to win.

''To be on the same team as him is great,'' Oosthuizen said. ''Everyone is looking up at him and Adam for this week. I think Ernie is the one that is probably going to affect all of us the most by giving us good motivational speeches and just getting us fired up. But as the young side that we are, I think we're all really fired up.''

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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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.”