Els (67) looks to get both arms into a green jacket

By Randall MellApril 9, 2015, 10:47 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Maybe this love story’s best chapter isn’t written yet after all.

Maybe the story of Ernie Els at the Masters won’t end as a tale of unrequited love.

Els loves August National, and nobody would appreciate what winning the Masters means more after all the heartache he has endured coming up short here. If he builds on Thursday’s strong start, if the 45-year-old Els leaves in a green jacket, it promises be a popular and emotional triumph.

“That’s the plan,” Els said. “We’ll see what happens.”

With a 5-under-par 67, Els finished the first round tied for second, three shots behind Jordan Spieth.

“I just felt comfortable,” he said. “I felt at ease for some reason.”

Els has won 19 PGA Tour titles, but he’s looking for his first in three years, since winning the British Open, the last of his four major championship titles.

Els made such formidable runs at winning the Masters between 2000 and 2004. He appeared to have one arm in the green jacket more than once. Twice, he was runner-up while never finishing worse than T-6 in that span.

The ’04 disappointment was particularly hard on Els. With a brilliant charge, playing the final 12 holes in 6 under, Els was waiting in the wings hoping to at least get in a playoff when Phil Mickelson birdied the last hole to beat him.

“When you heard the roar, it was like somebody reached into your chest and pulled your heart out,” Ricci Roberts, Els’ caddie that year, told Golf Channel back in 2013.

Els wasn’t the same returning to Augusta National after that loss.

“ I was trying to wipe it under the carpet that I wanted this one so badly for so many years,” Els said. “Definitely, there was something going on. You get fed up with yourself, never with Augusta, but yourself, with the mistakes that you make. I felt that I left shots out there in that span, that five‑, six‑year span. So a little frustration set in there, yeah.”

Els finished 47th in the ’05 Masters. He missed consecutive cuts in ’07, ’08 and ’09. After rebuilding his game and coming in as a favorite off victories at Doral and Bay Hill in 2010, Els left the Masters exasperated after finishing a distant T-18.

“It’s killing me,” Els said after that disappointment. “What can you do? I’m just beating my head against the wall every time.”

After failing to qualify for the Masters in 2012, missing it for the first time in almost two decades, Els returned the next year with a different approach. He came back to smell the azaleas. He came back trying to embrace the moments, the experiences.

Els used to pass on playing the Par 3 Contest, but the last two years, he has brought his family and played. His wife, Liezl, his daughter, Samantha, and his son, Ben, are all here.

“There's definitely a different kind of mind‑set in the whole family coming up here,” Els said. “It's more of an enjoyment.  We kind of are running out of time a little bit here, so we are really trying to enjoy what we've got left out here. It's been 21 years coming to Augusta. It's been unbelievable, but nothing lasts forever. Samantha had a great time at the Par 3, and I just have a different appreciation, I think, for the place.”

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.