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.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Photo Gallery - Whistling Straits
  • Tee Times
  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
  • Course Tour - Whistling Straits
  • Getty Images

    Watch: Tiger throws dart, pours in birdie at 8

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 7:31 pm

    Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

    Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which we walked in.

    A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

    A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

    Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

    Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

    (More coming...)

    Getty Images

    Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

    By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

    Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

    McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    “I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    “I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

    This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

    A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

    McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

    “It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

    As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

    “It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

    Getty Images

    Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

    By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

    PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

    She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

    Her confidence is high.

    “Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

    Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

    Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

    “One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

    “I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

    Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

    “I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

    That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.