Getting to Be Easy Again

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 8, 2003, 5:00 pm
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- It's the start of a new year for Ernie Els.. But its something from the past that puts a smile on his face.
 
That confidence of old is back.
 
I feel comfortable with myself again and my game, Els pleasantly said Wednesday after his pro-am in the Mercedes Championships.
 
Els is walking around the Plantation Course with the carefree nature that has earned him the moniker 'The Big Easy. ' The nickname applies as much to his sweet swing as it does to his nature.
 
But two years ago his attitude and passion were soured. Soured by a bevy of second-place finishes. Soured by a lack of winning. Soured by a loss of confidence.
 
Els finished runner-up five times on the PGA Tour in 2000, three times in major championships. That frustration carried over into the following season where Els said, The first six months (of 2001), I was just nowhere. I was just flat. I was going through the motions.
 
He failed to win on tour that season, and ended the year 15th on the money list. But there was a positive change in the middle of the year.
 
At the British Open, he met sports psychologist Josh van Stithout. The two worked on Els mental approach, and by the time the official season came to a close, things started to turn for the better.
 
Els teamed with countryman Retief Goosen to win the World Cup, and then captured the Vodacom Players Championship in South Africa.
 
The roller coaster was on its way back up. He won six times around the world in 2002, including the Genuity Championship and British Open ' his third career major title, and first since 1997.
 
The victory at Muirfield proved to be his greatest triumph, though it was nearly his most devastating defeat.
 
Els led by three strokes on the back nine Sunday, then squandered his advantage only to win in a five-hole playoff over four others.
 
After closing out his year with a victory in the Nedbank Challenge, Els stayed in his native South Africa and finally got a chance to watch the final round of the Briitish Open on tape.
 
I get to 16 (where he made double bogey) and I want to fast forward it, he joked.
 
Els is playing in his first competitive event since his $2 million triumph at the Nedbank. He used the off-season to relax and spend time with his wife and two kids, including a son who was born in October.
 
Hell need that resource of rest to carry him through a hectic first couple of months.
 
After two weeks in Hawaii ' for the Mercedes and Sony Open, hell compete in Singapore, play twice in Australia, come back to the U.S. for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and then travel to Dubai.
 
His appearance at Dubai, which he won last year, means hell be skipping his title defense at Doral. Els remarked it was a difficult decision to make, but one that was ultimately decided on the fact that hell receive an appearance fee to play overseas.
 
Els is one of the more open players on tour. Ask him a question and youll get an honest response. Hes not afraid to let you know that Tiger Woods got inside his head a couple of years ago.
 
I was just caught up in that kind of whirlwind of his, said Els, who admitted he was a bit off balance mentally when Woods beat him by 15 strokes in the 2000 U.S. Open and by eight in the British Open (this after Els led Woods by one through 36 holes).
 
He just totally blew us out of the water. I think after that, I was trying different things. Hopefully, I wont do that again, he said.
 
But now the train is back on track.
 
I think I eventually mentally got stable again, my own little battle, Els said. I just basically, you know, played my game again. Instead of trying to improve things, you know, doing things out of the ordinary, trying to chase Tiger down, I just thought, Play my game, see where it goes.
 
It led to a half-dozen victories in 02 and a career defining major championship.
 
Els is not only again at peace with his game and mentality, hes in comfortable surroundings this week.
 
He made the trip from South Africa because he loves the venue, and has had some good, if not frustrating results.
 
The 33-year-old lost to Woods in an epic duel at Kapalua in 2000, and then blew a four-stroke lead midway through the 2001 tournament to finish two back of Jim Furyk.
 
That second time I should have really won it, Els remarked.
 
But that was the past, and Els is focused on the present as well as the future.
 
If Im playing my game to my ability, you know, I can compete. Thats going to be my test this year, he said. I really want to compete well again doing my thing, and see where it goes.
 
Related Links:
  • Ernie Els Bio
  • Full coverage of the Mercedes Championships
  • Getty Images

    Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

    By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

    The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

    They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

    Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

    Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

    Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

    ''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

    The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

    In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

    Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

    Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

    By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

    Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

    Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

    Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

    Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

    It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

    The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

    Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

    By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

    Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

    ''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

    They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

    ''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

    Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

    ''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

    Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

    Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

    Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

    Getty Images

    Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

    Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

    Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

    Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

    Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

    The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.