Ernie is Back After Fall From the Top
At 24, he had won the U.S. Open once. At 27, he had won it again. By the year 2000, at the age of 30, he had won 33 times around the globe. This had been one of the most successful players on the face of the earth ' and he was just hitting the prime golfing age.
Then, last year it all vanished. He forgot how to win. He was searching but not finding. Ernie Els was a name mentioned somewhere in the second tier of favorites when you were deciding who might win the next major. The smooth, supple swing was still there, but the scoring average wasnt. Ernie had been reduced to the category of others in the field, a man who had the talent to jump up and bite you, but most likely wouldnt.
Last week, he took a giant step toward rectifying all that. He played three brilliant rounds to take a huge lead at Doral, then hung on Sunday while Tiger Woods threatened to blow right by him and wipe out his once-imposing advantage. Ernie had done it, holding fast while the gales threatened to blow him right off his feet. Now they are all talking about him again.
It had actually ended in 1998. That was the year of Els big pratfall. He had an eight-shot lead over Woods at the Johnnie Walker beginning the last round ' and lost to him in a playoff. That one loss sent Els spiraling down from his perch atop golfs best. He would win every now and then from that moment to last year, but he became a top-10 golfer instead of the Top One.
In 1998, of course, Els was still in his 20s. In 2002, hes in his early 30s. He undoubtedly has lost some off the distance. But he must have gained something in the noggin ' which can be a reasonable trade-off.
Els did something at Doral Sunday that he didnt do in Thailand in 1998. I stayed committed, he said, meaning he approached every shot as if he were certain he was making the right stroke. He wasnt really certain that day in 98.
Ernie is brutally honest. He cant lie to himself to make him be someone else. Other players have that knack to kid themselves into thinking they can beat anyone ' at least for a moment. This guy isnt like that, although he knows that he can beat any one at any time. He knows, however, that he can be beaten, and that knowledge had defeated him at times.
So, Els isnt going to say the win made him a tougher player, or better, or anything like that. He frankly doesnt know, although he hopes so.
You know, I would like to think so, he told the writers gathered at the Genuity Championship. But you know, next time I might play better. There are always learning experiences you go through in life, and especially on the golf course. So this is preparation for the next time. At least I can fall back on this one, and it could only get better.
Frank Nobilo knows Els very well. They are neighbors most of the year at Lake Nona in Orlando. The two played in Europe together, in Australia and New Zealand together, even some in South Africa together. Nobilo knows, as a friend knows, what a loss in the Genuity would have meant to his buddy. He especially knew what it would have meant if Els had lost to Tiger. Ernie is human, and human beings get hurt by the words that would have been written about the duel.
If (the players) are honest, theyd admit that, Nobilo said. You might not read it yourself, but you hear about it from family and friends. You try shutting it out, but you are human.
Sometimes you have to quiet the critics. You dont know what might happen when you get the monkey off your shoulder. Success is habit forming. Now Tiger knows hes not going to intimidate Ernie, but Ernie also knows he has to play well to beat Tiger.
And so Els leaves for a week in Dubai before returning to Florida to play Bay Hill. He still was a little rushed, but there was plenty of time to reflect on it all when things quieted down a little.
You know, if I look back when I get on the plane tonight and I am flying and after a couple of beers when I have relaxed a little, I will think back on this and maybe look at it as a blessing in disguise maybe for the future, Els was saying.
I have had some tough, very tough breaks in the last year, not winning tournaments, and this definitely would have been a very difficult one to swallow.
But you know, I felt like I committed myself better this time around. And its hard to say, but I felt that I hung in the last 45 holes pretty well.
And with that, it was time for the Dubai Express to leave. Hes there now, but not before time for joking or maybe it wasnt a joke. Somebody wondered if his appearance fee had just gone up.
Ernie had to chuckle. Yeah ' why do you think I am going?
Expect those appearance fees to stay higher for a few more years.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.