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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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.