Els completes 23rd - and likely last - Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2017, 7:18 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – About a dozen fans politely applauded as Ernie Els made his way to the 18th green on Sunday at Augusta National, the vast majority unaware that it was likely the South African’s last trip up the iconic hill in the tournament that has caused him so much pain.

For the Big Easy, the Masters was anything but easy. His runner-up showing in 2004 to Phil Mickelson is still the standard for competitive heartbreak to go along with a second-place finish in 2000 and a half dozen top-10 finishes at the year’s first major.

But the green jacket always eluded him.

“This tournament was just not for me,” he said after shooting a 6-over 78.

Els’ love-hate relationship with Augusta National could be summed up in a single answer when he was asked to recount his good memories at the Masters. “Oh, let me think,” he offered with a wry smile.

But as his mind raced through his 23 years at the Masters it quickly settled on his first start in 1994 when he finished tied for eighth place. He remembered being paired with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and Jose Maria Olazabal, who won that year’s tournament.

He remembered learning to love the nuances of the golf course and its fast, undulating greens. He recalled how much that first exposure benefited him just two months later when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

“Putting on these greens, I loved putting on these greens, and I still do, believe it or not,” said Els, whose exemption into the Masters for winning the 2012 Open ends this year. “That's definitely the thing that helped me for Oakmont, because Oakmont has very similar slopes, similar speed, and I loved putting at Oakmont.”

Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage

At 47 years old, Els still maintains a competitive firewall when it comes to negative association, which at least partially explains why 2000 and ’04 don’t immediately register when he thinks of his more than two decades at Augusta National.

The ’04 edition is particularly difficult. After beginning the final round three strokes off the lead, Els eagled the eighth and 13th holes to move into the hunt but could only watch as Mickelson rolled in an 18-footer for birdie at the last to beat him by a stroke.

Els made it clear he’s not at the point in his career where he has much use for nostalgia, even suggesting that he could someday return to the Masters as a competitor, although the prospect of coming back as a non-competing invitee did hold a measure of appeal.

“I’ve got my brains beat in here, so who knows, maybe I can come here and have a few beers,” he laughed.

Just as Els was finishing his day at Augusta National, a pitch shot away Rory McIlroy was teeing off for the final round. Like Els in ’94, McIlroy has seemed destined to win a closet full of green jackets.

“If I look back at the 23, 24 years here, how many professional golfers get the opportunity to play the Masters 23 times?” he said. “Having a chance to win it a couple of times was special and this tournament is just not for me. I've won a lot of events around the world, but this one just eluded me and that's fine.”

Els’ Masters plight is a vivid reminder that not every career, even World Golf Hall of Fame careers, end with a ceremony in Butler Cabin.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm