A British Open That Is Wide Open

By Golf Channel NewsroomJuly 13, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- Despite two U.S. Open titles and a wealth of talent, Ernie Els used to show up at major championships and try to convince himself he could win.
 
It was a one-sided argument that he usually lost.
 
'It was difficult for not only myself but for other players to really believe that you can go out there and play your game and think it's going to be good enough,' Els said Tuesday at Royal Troon.
 
That was at the height of Tiger Woods' incomparable run through the majors, when he won seven out of 11 majors, set scoring records in each Grand Slam event and held all four trophies at the same time.
 
Els showed up at Royal Troon with high hopes and in a new role - the betting favorite to win the British Open, the first time at a major since the 1997 Masters that the best odds were assigned to someone other than Woods.
 
And the Big Easy didn't need a betting slip to know that.
 
'Right now it's different,' he said. 'I feel that when he plays really well, he's going to shoot 67. But if I play well, I can shoot that score, as well. And I can keep doing that for three or four days. I think we're on a more level playing field now, and maybe because Tiger Woods has come back to the field a little bit.'
 
Ladbrokes listed Els as the 7-1 favorite Tuesday, with Woods right behind at 8-1.
 
To get an idea how much has changed in two years, consider that Woods was the 4-1 favorite going into Muirfield - not only to win the British Open, but to win the final two majors for the Grand Slam.
 
'Tiger will be back to his dominance, if not this week, very soon. I'm sure of that,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'But I just think everybody else sees themselves being able to play to that level.'
 
Maybe that's what gives this British Open a truly 'open' feel at Royal Troon.
 
Phil Mickelson has a green jacket to go with that wry smile, a winner at the Masters for his first major. The only thing that stopped Lefty from the first two legs of the Grand Slam was Retief Goosen, a smooth South African whose second U.S. Open victory might finally make people aware of his greatness.
 
'Where Tiger was and where he is now, I mean we're in different worlds now,' Els said. 'A lot of the players feel that we can compete with him now at the highest level. He's still playing great golf. He's still not that far off.'
 
Is he still No. 1?
 
Maybe not after this week.
 
Els had a chance to replace him last month at the U.S. Open. Two shots behind and playing in the final group, Els made double bogey on the first hole and crashed to an 80.
 
He gets another chance at Royal Troon, where a victory coupled with Woods finishing 17th or worse would end Woods' run of 257 consecutive weeks - dating to the 1999 PGA Championship - at No. 1 in the world.
 
'To be No. 1 in this day and age, with this many great players, would be quite something,' Els said. 'But for me, to win this tournament is more important. To win majors is more important for my career.'
 
Still, Els knows there is a long road ahead of him at Royal Troon, a links known for its tough inward nine holes, the tiny 'Postage Stamp' green on the 123-yard eighth hole and putting surfaces as pure as any in the British Open.
 
Mickelson has never finished in the top 10 at a British Open, his weak link in the majors. But he has never prepared so well for the Open, playing Royal Troon last Wednesday, on Friday after he missed the cut at Loch Lomond and Monday morning in what probably was his final tuneup.
 
Along the way, he has taken copious notes of where the ball is likely to wind up after traveling along the humps and bumps of the firm linksland.
 
'What I've tried to do this week ... is to understand where balls will tend to end up and try to be effective from there to the hole,' Mickelson said. 'I feel much more confident than I have in the past because I have come in and prepared properly.'
 
He also was prepared for a question about his chief rival, and whether Woods has lost an aura of invincibility.
 
'Well, that's a tough one to answer,' Mickelson said, before deciding to go no further.
 
Woods played another early practice round, teeing off by 6:30 a.m. and was off the course about three hours later. He doesn't have fond memories of Royal Troon, even though he shares the course record with a 64 in the third round during the 1997 British Open that helped him to a tie for 24th.
 
He came undone with a triple bogey on the 11th hole in the first round, a quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the second round, and a triple bogey on the Postage Stamp on the final day.
 
All it takes is a couple of bad swings to get in trouble at Troon. And that's what has kept Woods winless in the last eight majors, with only one PGA Tour victory more than halfway through this season.
 
Woods didn't say his swing was 'close' because no one asked him - they have heard the same answer the last three months. But he has looked relaxed all week, not outwardly bothered by going two years without a major, or by the posse of players closing in on his No. 1 ranking.
 
'I've always played my best when I've gone out and stayed focused on what I have to do and not worry about anything else,' Woods said.
 
When he played his best, he almost always won.
 
Now, he might understand how Els and everyone else used to feel at majors.
 
Will it be enough?
 
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

     

     

    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.