Ernie Ever So Quietly Wins Again
OK, I realize that all attention will ' and probably should be ' on Tiger Woods next year. And if Phil Mickelson ever comes out of hiding, he, too, will get a lot of attention. Vijay Singh, whom most people wrote off after a disappointing second half of the season, will surprise a lot of folks ' and thats guaranteed.
But look at what Ernie did. Yes, yes, I know ' the tournament he won in South Africa, the dunhill, had only eight of the worlds top 200 entered. But you must remember that he was coming back after a five-month layoff. He had suffered a knee injury on a family sailing outing, and furthermore, his ninth-place finish in a 12-man Nedbank field during initial comeback two weeks ago impressed absolutely no one.
Then ' this.
I couldnt have asked for more, Els wrote on his website. I had my moments at the Nedbank where I was striking the ball OK, but I was just feeling my way back into things really.
This week at Leopard Creek was a different story, especially with my putting. I started to strike the ball with a bit more conviction and, more importantly, my feel for distance came back so I felt like I could start holing putts. Inside 10 feet I was much better and, as we all know, they are the scoring putts.
Els is still packing his knee in ice after every round. Doctors have told him that swelling will still occur, though they think there is no chance of him injuring it further if he continues to play. Ernie pondered whether he should play the dunhill, but because he has a home on the course, and because the doc said there wouldnt be any more structural damage, he decided to tee it up.
Els started the final round two back of overnight leader Ulrich Van den Berg. Van den Berg then birdied four of the first six holes, and when Els bogeyed No. 7, the difference was four.
But the situation changed quickly when Van den Berg bogeyed the ninth and then made a triple-bogey at No 11. And that was the opening Els needed.
'It's an amazing feeling coming out here and actually winning, said Ernie. When you're out of the game for so long with an injury, you worry about whether you'll ever be the same again.
'Two weeks ago I wasn't too sure whether I could break 80 in competition. And in my first tournament back (the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City), I didn't exactly set the course alight.
'But I took some positives out of Sun City, and my practice round here at Leopard Creek gave me an idea that my game was pretty much there.
The knee injury was to his anterior cruciate ligament, which enables the twisting movement that is vital to the golf swing. Surgery to repair it involved the insertion of 'small screws and anchors'. There was a time he doubted if he would return to play golf at the highest level.
As usually happens in an accident of this magnitude, however, there were a couple of positives along with the one major negative. For one, Els the world traveler was forced ' finally - to take a long, relaxing break.
'The last 20 weeks or so have been a period of reflection for me,' he told reporters in South Africa. 'I'm lucky enough to have become wealthy through playing this game, but if you don't have your health, you've really got nothing.'
A second positive was that now Els believes he is a better putter. He spent idle hours working on that phase of the game while waiting for the knee to heal. And he watched old films of his putting and decided he hunches over the ball too much.
'It looked to me that my putting posture wasn't quite right; almost that the putter was too short for me. Also, I seemed to be cutting across the ball ever-so-slightly. I wasn't releasing the putter freely through towards the hole like you should,' Els said.
'So to rectify those things, what I've done is extend the shaft of my putter to 36 inches, and that's helped me stand a little taller over the ball with my spine straighter. I've been developing a feeling of controlling the stroke with a turning-rocking motion of the shoulders - basically like a mini-golf swing. And already it feels a lot better, like I can release the putter through the ball and hit my putts with a lot more authority, which hopefully then leads to confidence.'
It may take six more months before the knee is completely healed, doctors say. But Ernie is in no hurry. There is much time, even though he is now 36, to build on the Els record before he hangs up his driver.
'I look at Vijay Singh and he's winning majors in his 40s,' Els said. 'So I figure I've still got 10 good years to achieve my goals.'
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.