No 7 Major Disappointments for Els

By Mercer BaggsDecember 21, 2004, 5:00 pm
2004 Stories of the YearEditor's note: We are counting down the top 10 stories in golf for the 2004 season. This is Story No. 7.
 
In golf ' in any form of competition ' you cant be afraid to fail. Not it you want to succeed.
 
Few players in todays time have been as successful as Ernie Els. That list would include Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, and thats about it.
 
And few players have suffered failure in the same manner as Els. That list would include Greg Norman, and thats about it.
 
Els has won 15 times on the PGA Tour and 36 other times ' officially ' around the world. Three of those 51 combined wins, however, stand above the rest. Those three ' the 1994 U.S. Open, 1997 U.S. Open and 2002 British Open ' are major championships.
 
I play to win majors, Els had said. Thats what its all about.
 
Major championships are the ultimate prize in golf. Winning one can provide ultimate satisfaction. Losing one can offer ultimate despondency.
 
Winning a major championship ' let alone three ' is not an easy accomplishment. You only get four opportunities a year to capture one, and rarely does a player put himself in position to do so and actually pull it off.
 
Players always say: just give me a chance. They just want a chance to win a major championship, just the opportunity to be in the mix on Sunday.
 
Els got that chance in 2004 ' four times over. And he felt four times the pain of anyone in any of those tournaments, failing to win a single one.
 
It all began in April at Augusta.
 
He was three down through three rounds of the Masters Tournament, trailing Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco. But before he could reach the back nine on Sunday, he was in sole possession of the lead.
 
Els eagled the par-5 eighth to take a one-stroke advantage, a margin he upped to three with another eagle at the par-5 13th.
 
Leading by three with five holes to play, one might think that it was Els tournament to win or lose, when in fact he really did neither.
 
Els helped his cause with a birdie on the par-5 15th, but he closed with three pars. That wasnt enough to win the tournament. Still, playing the final round at Augusta National in 67, it wasnt as if he blew it either.
 
There was just no denying Mickelson this time.
 
Major-less Mickelson shed that label by shooting 5-under 31 on the back nine, sealing his first major victory with an 18-foot birdie on the final hole.
 
After finishing his round ' having played in front of Mickelson ' Els signed his scorecard and went to the practice range. He knew the crowd would let him know if there would be a playoff or not. And when he heard the roar, all he could do was close his eyes and shake his head.
 
Im very disappointed now, but I'll get over this, no problem. I feel like I'll win a major this year, he said.
 
Opportunity No. 2 came in June at Shinnecock.
 
He was paired with Retief Goosen in the final group in the final round of the 104th U.S. Open, trailing his countryman by two strokes. This time, he had a chance to look his opponent right in the eyes, play him head-to-head, shot-for-shot.
 
Only Goosen took 71 shots on Sunday; Els all of 80.
 
On a day in which 28 players out of 66 failed to break into the 70s, none of the scores were more shocking than the one posted by Els, who could have become the No. 1 player in the world with a win.
 
The baked-out greens cracked and crumbled under his feet, opened up into a chasm and swallowed him whole almost immediately.
 
Els took double bogey at the first. He birdied the third, but bogeyed Nos. 4, 5 and 7. And after another double at 8, Els was seven back of Goosen.
 
He would say, after the debacle, that he was just trying to stay out of Goosens way on the back nine. And he would say that long after leaving Shinnecok, where he stormed past reporters after shooting his highest-ever score in a U.S. Open.
 
The Masters was heartbreaking. The U.S. Open was mind boggling. But neither compared to the emotional toll exacted on Els at the British Open.
 
This one hurt. A lot.
 
It hurt so much because of what he had already endured on the year. It hurt because he had the lead early on Sunday but gave it away. It hurt because he rallied late and had a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to win the championship ' and left it short. It hurt because Hamilton bogeyed the final hole and gave Els another opportunity at being the Open champion ' and he couldnt take advantage. It hurt because he was unable to make a single birdie in the four-hole cumulative playoff. It hurt because he had another crucial putt on 18, nearly identical to the one before, and he again failed to convert ' this time to extend the playoff.
 
While Hamilton was accepting the claret jug, Els stood off to the side, holding his silver medal in stunned silence.
 
Less than three weeks later, Els was sitting in a press conference prior to the start of the International. He was asked if he looked forward to the years final major or if he was a bit apprehensive, wondering what potential calamity could be in store.
 
The Masters, I really didn't feel very disappointed after that one, unlike after the Open, he said. Obviously, Shinnecock was a disaster.
 
Still, I've come this close, so obviously I'm doing something right. Something is good in my game. It's just not quite there right at the end product; it's not quite there yet.
 
I think there's a bit of down still in me, which will come out and hopefully it will come out at the PGA.
 
It wasnt to be.
 
Els started the final round at Whistling Straits four back of Vijay Singh. Yet, despite making four birdies and four bogeys over his first 17 holes, somehow, someway, Els was still in contention when he headed to the 18th.
 
After scrambling to get within 6 feet of the hole, Els missed the par putt. And he ultimately missed out on a playoff by that one stroke.
 
I don't know if you deserve anything in this game, but you put a lot of effort in it and get that close, you know ' obviously I'm disappointed, Els would later say. It's done, it's dusted, and I'm looking forward to the future. Let's forget about the past. I've got to move on. I'm looking forward to that.
 
Related Links:
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    Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

    SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

    Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

    Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

    Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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    Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

    SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

    “Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.


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    “We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

    In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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    Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

    “That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

    So was Woods.

    DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

    “His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

    Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

    “He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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    “The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

    Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

    “Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

    “Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

    Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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    With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.