Ernie a Little Scary Now but Does Tiger Notice
It happened again at the Mercedes Championships. Els has been there before, playing adroitly while sending his challengers gurgling down the drain. This time, it was something extra special, a brilliantly played week in which he set a PGA Tour record of 31-under par.
But oftentimes in the past, he has had a lot of trouble sustaining the brilliance. Will we see that again? Are we expecting too much? Is there really only one Tiger? Or can Ernie build upon the last two or three times hes played golf and truly be a Tiger challenger?
Els, a South African who is 33 now, supposedly is at the peak of his golfing abilities. But he has this one huge handicap working against him. He is a world player.
The abrupt change of scenery, be it Hawaii one week, Australia the following week, South Africa the next, on to England for a couple of tournaments, then back to America, make it very difficult to purr along at that consistently high level. But he enjoys playing around the world, and furthermore he feels it his obligation as both a South African and a European Tour member to take his golfing tools and play the big events around the globe. The fact that he has a home in Orlando and is also a member of the U.S. tour is merely a sidelight. Els is a world player in every sense of the word.
Come February, Woods is supposed to return. Until then, Els will face the same litany everytime he wins a Tiger-less tournament. We know, though, that one of three scenarios exist: A, that Els has become a Woods equal and will prove an equal competitor whenever they bump heads; B, that Els is an equal competitor but gets Tiger-itis when they meet up head-to-head; or C, that Els just isnt in Tigers league.
Up to now, Els has occasionally been a B, where he has been psyched out mentally by Woods, but mostly a C, where Tiger has been clearly superior.
We revisit Ernie-Tiger again because of Els excellence the past month. He blew the entire field away at the Sun City tournament. Only 12 players were in the field, but it was a pretty good cross-section of players from around the globe. And Els shredded the field by eight strokes.
Then at the Mercedes, which matches the 2002 winners, Els beat the elite of the PGA Tour by eight. Of course, one player was missing from both fields ' fellow by the name of Woods. Would Ernie have beaten Tiger during both of those golden weeks? Probably. But then again
Els is not going to dwell on that question. He beat the field, whoever bothered to show up, and that is just about all that he can do. He didnt just beat them, but beat them both by eight shots.
You know, I really cant worry about that, Els said when asked the same question. Im just happy I played this well this week. I'm not trying to send a message to anybody. I'm just trying to prove to myself that I can play well, just keep improving on the things that I'm working on the mental side of the game, the physical side of the game. I'm just trying to improve.
Let's see where it takes me. I've just got to keep on working, keep my discipline. We'll talk later again. I'm not trying to send a message to anybody.
Rocco Mediate watched Els obliterate the field at Mercedes. He shuddered a little when he thought of it, the way that everything Els tried seemed to work. Tiger may not be that far out in front now, Rocco says.
Ernie doesn't miss anything, said Mediate. He's not missing a part of his game. What is he bad at? Nothing. I mean, he drives it 400, chips and putts as well as anybody on the planet, he's a good iron player. He has been for how many years?
Of course, how many years has Tiger been the absolute best? Ernie played nearly as well as humanly possible in the 2000 Mercedes, but lost to Tiger in a memorable duel when Woods sank a long putt in the playoff. Els was banished to second place ' or worse ' for the next couple of years.
I mean, Tiger went on a streak there which I don't know if we'll ever see again, Els said. You know, the way he played, the way he hit the ball, the way he putted, just everything he did was obviously unbelievable.
Unfortunately for me, I was just caught up in that kind of whirlwind of his. I kept on finishing second. Then the next year, I was trying to, Okay, now I'm going to do this now.' That wasn't quite me. I think that was the problem I was in.
This is a new time, a new Ernie, a new season. It may be the best hes ever played. But is it enough? Can he do it over the course of an entire year, when he will have to face that same nemesis ' Tiger ' 10 times or so?
Dont ask Els. He isnt the kind to get into head-to-head comparisons. He doesnt put the same pressure on himself as, say, Phil Mickelson. And dont ask his him, for goodness sakes, why he is hitting every single shot, making every putt, at the moment.
I cant tell you ' I cant answer that question, he said.
But Ive got my name on my bag.
Meaning that he, like about 500 other fellows, is a professional golfer. He just happens to be playing the best of any of the 500 at the moment.
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.