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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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019
The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.
The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at Club de Golf de Panama.
Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins
An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.
It was too much “socializing.”
“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.
“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”
Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.
His plan for doing that?
“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.
Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open
SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.
The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.
Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.
''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''
The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.
''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''
Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.
''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.
Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.
He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.
Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.
Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.
He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.
Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.