Els and McNulty Head Field for Tour Championship
Els has already confirmed that he will play in the inaugural Tour Championship at the Leopard Creek Country Club from February 22-25. The double U.S. Open champion will return to the PGA Tour immediately afterwards in preparation for the Masters, the first major of the year.
The fairways of Leopard Creek will also be the stage upon which McNulty will wrap up a record eighth Order of Merit title on the local tour. This season, the dapper Zimbabwean confirmed his status as the most prolific winner of tournaments in Southern Africa.
During the summer section of the tour, McNulty began his dominance by claiming his third Zimbabwe Open title at the Royal Harare Golf Club in November. He went on to record a victory in the Nashua Nedtel Cellular Masters at the Wild Coast Sun, and then clinched the Mercedes-Benz SA Open Championship title at the East London Golf Club two weeks later.
McNulty's ownership of the Order of Merit title is assured, having amassed over 1.5-million Rand in five events. He is a staggering 1-million Rand clear of second-placed Roger Wessels on the money list.
The battle for second place, and with that a place in The Open Championship field at Royal Lytham this year, is a much more closely contested one. Roger Wessels is currently second, but only about 60,000 clear of third-placed Trevor Immelman, who leads this season's Rookie of the Year race.
Retief Goosen is fourth on the Order of Merit, but is not playing at Leopard Creek, opening the challenge for fifth-placed Bradford Vaughan for a top three finish on the money list. Vaughan is less than 90,000 behind Immelman, with a first prize of 315,000 Rand on offer at Leopard Creek. The incentive for a top-three finish is also lucrative, promising a place in the highly regarded American Express World Golf Championship.
The Tour Championship wraps up the 2000/2001 Sunshine Tour season with a championship exclusive to the top available professionals on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, as well as the three leading amateurs in South Africa.
Invitations have been extended to Richard Sterne, Dean Lambert and Jaco van der Merwe. The full field size of 75 will be announced after the conclusion of this week's Investec Royal Swazi Sun Open.
The course at the Leopard Creek Country Club is in magnificent condition, promising exciting golf over the four days of the championship.
McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
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
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.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
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
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."
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.