Big Week for Big Easy

By Mercer BaggsAugust 9, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipThe sun was beating down on him pretty good. He took his big right hand and wiped his brow, releasing a puddle of sweat that made a big splat as it hit the ground.
 
Everything about Ernie Els is big. Its more than the fact that hes 63 and listed at a forgiving 210 pounds. Its more than the fact that his hand can swallow yours whole when he shakes it.
 
Ernie Els lives big. He wins big. And he loses big.
 
Els has a life that can hardly be imagined. He owns homes in South Africa, the Bahamas, England and the U.S. In his private jet, he and his family, which includes his wife, Liezl, and two children, Samantha, 5, and Ben, 22 months, can fly wherever they desire at moments notice. And hes also a three-time major champion and the second-ranked player in the world.
 
But its not always easy being the Big Easy. Not to make excuses for the man who has just about everything that money can buy and talent can afford, but when youre that big its a harder, more unforgiving fall to the canvas when you get knocked down.
 
And Els has repeatedly been knocked to the canvas this season ' in major knock-out fashion.
 
You might have thought that it couldnt get any more frustrating for Els in the majors than it did in 2000, when he finished runner-up three times.
 
Those losses took their toll on Els. He admitted that Tiger Woods had gotten inside his head, had affected his confidence.
 
Els is always upfront like this. He answers questions not politically, but personally. Which is why you knew there would be an honest answer to the question: Are you looking forward to PGA Championship or do you enter with hesitation?
 
A little bit of both, he said, smiling midway through the question as if to say: I know where youre going with this one.
 
Once again, Els is facing a psychological battle as he heads into the seasons final major.
 
Like in 2000, he has had a series of good, but not good enough, finishes in the majors. But this time its different. Four years ago, Els wasnt able to catch Vijay Singh in the Masters; he then got railroaded by Tiger Woods in both the U.S. Open and British Open. Woods also won the PGA, while Els tied for 34th.
 
What hurt so much in 2000 was that Els knew his best wasnt good enough. He came to the obvious conclusion that Tiger Woods was just better than him and everyone else ' and he and everyone else had no idea how long it would be that way.
 
It was the man to whom he lost, not the losses themselves, which caused the most pain.
 
This time its not a singular individual that dominates the downside of his psyche; its the losses themselves, which have gradually become more painful to bear.
 
First there was the Masters, when his final-round 67 proved agonizingly insufficient. Then there was the U.S. Open, where, playing in the final group on Sunday, he had a chance to become the No. 1 player in the world with a win, but double bogeyed his first hole and finished with a stomach-turning 80. And most recently there was the British Open, where he twice came up short ' literally with a 12-foot putt for victory on the 72nd hole, and then figuratively in a four-hole playoff with Todd Hamilton.
 
It still hurts when I think about, Els said of his British Open loss, but youve got to move on.
 
Obviously, Shinnecock was a bit of a disaster. I felt I played well, he said. The Masters, I really didnt feel very disappointed after that one, unlike the (U.S.) Open.
 
Still, Ive come this close, so obviously Im doing something right. Something is good in my game. Its just not quite there right at the end product.
 
Over the last five years, Els has won seven PGA Tour events, as well as 13 other tournaments around the world. The World Golf Hall of Fame can get started on the making of his bust right now if theyd like.
 
But Els is nonetheless on historys slippery slope at the moment. Hes in danger of becoming known for the tournaments he lost rather than the ones he won.
 
During that same five-year stretch, Els has 10 top-5 finishes in the majors, including five Silver medals ' but only one Gold (2002 British Open).
 
If youre up there all the time, like Greg Norman was, youre going to get knocked down a bunch. Thats just the way it is, said David Toms.
 
Norman is the poster child for Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. He had eight runner-up finishes and 19 top-5s in major championships, to go along with two victories (1986 and 93 British Opens). He also endured some of the most memorable ' and spirit crushing ' defeats in golf history.
 
Els isnt in Normans category. Hes got one more major victory, a few less heartbreaks and several more competitive years still remaining.
 
And one big win this week will salve the wounds of those three big losses.
 
Theres good and bad, Els said in reference to his performance in the seasons first three majors. Something is still missing. So, you know, if you look at it that way, yeah, you can kick yourself quite a few times.
 
I think theres a bit of down still in me, which will come out ' and hopefully come out at the PGA.
 
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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

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    J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

    Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

    ''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


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    Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

    Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

    Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

    She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

    ''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

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    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

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    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

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    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.