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.”

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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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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.