Ernie Els 2nd Round Interview
ERNIE ELS: No, not really. You know, when you kind of get it going, you just try and ride it, you know, you just try just do the same things over and over again, just go through your routine, go through your pre-shot routinne and stuff, think positive. On this golf course, like I said yesterday, I think it favors longer hitters. You can be aggressive on the longer holes, try and get the driver out there. Got some room there. You know, from that point of view, yeah. I don't go out there, you know, thinking I've got to be more aggressive than I've ever been. I just try and raise my game a little bit more.
Q. On the quality of the round, did you ever come close to making bogey? How many 12-foot and under birdie putts did you miss?
ERNIE ELS: I almost three-putted on No. 7, the par 4. I left my first putt from about 40 feet, left it ten feet short, and I made that putt for a par save. I must say, I probably missed three or four makable putts from inside ten feet. One on the 1st hole from about, you know, six feet. I would say one on 9 from about six feet again. One on 14. You know, a couple other ones (laughter).
Q. When Tiger finished, he sounded like we do, a 22 handicap or something, about ready to give UP the game. Have you ever had days where you just hate golf, where you get so frustrated you can't do anything?
ERNIE ELS: You're asking me (laughter)?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I've had many of those days. You should know that.
Q. Where you just say, 'I want to get away from the game,' then of course the next day you're out there.
ERNIE ELS: Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. I've had many of those days. I've been a professional -- what's it been? -- 11 years. Probably 30% of that time (laughter).
Q. The Scots say it's a very humbling game.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah.
Q. Americans say it, too. You have a terrific record at this tournament in four appearances. Does winning this mean any more to you than any other regular TOUR event?
ERNIE ELS: No, not really. Although saying that, you know, a regular TOUR event, you've got to try and beat, you know, 53 guys, and Tiger. This week you've got to beat 32 guys and Tiger. I guess in a way, just looking at the size of the field, it's got to be a little easier. But the quality of the players here, they're all winners from last year. A lot of them have won major Championships, really a quality field. You know, this one and THE TOUR Championship must be 'your quality players.'
Q. Don't misconstrue this the wrong way. I'm seriously curious about this. When you were coming up 9, had to move off the left as Justin was hitting, you were looking at the score board for a couple of seconds, are you looking to see what kind of separation you have on everybody else, or if Tiger's name is up there?
ERNIE ELS: I think a little bit of both. Definitely I need to see, you know, what's going on with the leaders, the immediate leaders, kind of see who is doing well. I saw Vijay was doing great. I was actually walking off the second green, he was going to the 9th tee. I knew he was playing well. I was watching a lot of other players. Obviously, you need to know where Tiger is. You need to know what you have to do.
Q. Why do you need to know where Tiger is? Just because of what he's capable of? Are you curious? If you're playing well, should it matter?
ERNIE ELS: Sure, yeah. I mean, the score boards are there, you might as well use them. You kind of look at which players are hot on the golf course. You know, if it's Tiger or David Duval or Phil Mickelson, they're all capable of shooting really low scores. You know, you need to know what's going on, I think.
Q. What is it about the golf course? You mentioned sort of knowing a little bit about what the course is going to do, the wind, does that lead to a comfort level, turns into confidence?
ERNIE ELS: In a way, yes. I know how I played this golf course last year. I played it pretty well, you know. With the same breeze blowing again this year, it's very familiar to what we had last year. Although there's a lot of elevation changes on the golf course, you know, I can feel comfortable hitting a 9-iron 180 yards, you know. Guys who haven't played in these kind of conditions might not think they can get there with a 9-iron, you know what I mean? I feel comfortable hitting the shots that you have to play on the golf course.
Q. Lots of good vibrations from last year, too?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah, definitely. The greens also you need to know how the grain is going, stuff like that. It was important to have played it pretty well before.
Q. A lot of golf to go, a lot of quality guys still close to you. Is it nice to look in the rearview and see that many strokes separating Tiger?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah, definitely (laughter). You know, I've done pretty hard work up to now, you know. I've played pretty hard up to now. You know, I can reap a little bit of benefits right now. I've got a four-shot lead ahead of three guys. You know, I can go out there and play hard over the weekend and see what happens. As I've said to you guys, I feel comfortable on the course. If I can continue playing the way I have been, you know, it's going to be difficult for him to catch me.
Q. What is your plan for the weekend? Do you change anything?
ERNIE ELS: No, I don't want to change anything. I want to play sensible. I want to play within myself. It's all about putting, you know. I think a lot of guys are going to get the golf ball on the greens; it's making the putts. Putting is going to be quite important.
Q. What about playing with Vijay tomorrow?
ERNIE ELS: That's my partner, my 0-and-5 partner (laughter). Just thought I'd throw that in there. He's a good friend of mine, good mate of mine. I've known him a very long time. We'll have a good game tomorrow. Will be very competitive I'm sure.
Q. You didn't have a lot of confidence last year, you obviously played well. You have more confidence this year. That seems like it's going to add up to --?
ERNIE ELS: You know, I won a good tournament in December. You know, I've been playing okay for the last couple of months. I enjoy the course. So, you know, see what happens.
Q. You won in December?
ERNIE ELS: What do you mean (laughter)?
Q. Need the birdies?
ERNIE ELS: 3 was a pitching wedge to about five feet, down the green. I made that. The par 5, today I got the right club. Hit a 6-iron on there, back of the green. 2-putted from about 40 feet. No. 8, I hit a 7-iron to about eight feet. 10 was a pitching wedge about a good 15, 18 feet there for birdie. 12, I hit a 3-wood off the tee, pitched it into the green to about 18 feet again, made a good one there. 15, the par 5, I hit it in the right rough. Hit a 3-wood on the green. 2-putted from about 45 feet. 18 was a drive, 2-iron. 2-putted from about 55 feet.
Q. How long was that last putt?
ERNIE ELS: That last one was five, six feet.
Q. Did you say you grew up on these kind of greens?
ERNIE ELS: Yes. Before we changed to a bentgrass, at my club we used to play on greens like this in Johannesburg.
Q. Were they this grainy?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, very grainy.
The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.
Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.
Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.
The narrative wondrously started to turn here.
It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.
It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.
He is just four shots off the lead.
“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”
Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.
“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”
Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.
How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?
“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”
This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.
“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”
Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.
When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.
“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”
Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.
“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.
Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.
It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.
“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”
Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.
Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.
“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”
Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.
Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.
“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”
Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers. He got a standing ovation.
“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”
So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?
Woods seems in a hurry to find out.
List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.
He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.
Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.
So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.
''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''
And he has plenty of company.
Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).
Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.
Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.
''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''
The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.
Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.
''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''
It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.
''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''
List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.
''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''
He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.
And there was another guy four shots behind.
Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.
Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.
Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.
The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.
He went with the 5-iron.
''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.
It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.
Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.
''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.
Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.
Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.
Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.
Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.
Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.
And why should he?
When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.
Bounce-back— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) February 23, 2018
That gets Tiger back to +1. pic.twitter.com/l1yix0hzig
The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.
There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.
Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.
“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”
After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.
“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”
The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.