Not As Easy As He Looks

By Mercer BaggsJuly 16, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England ' Ernie Els strolled Royal St. Georges grounds Tuesday evening. Decked out in a suit minus the jacket, which was draped around his arms, he walked at a brisk pace.
It didnt take long for people to take notice. Whispers grew more audible. Signature seekers and well-wishers made their moves. One man even snatched a pen from a kid so that he might obtain the autograph of the worlds second ranked player.
Els never broke stride. Neither did those tagging along, and that number seemed to grow with each step.
Its hard to secure a shade of anonymity when youre the reigning Open Champion. Even more difficult when you stand 6 foot, 3 inches.
Hes nicknamed The Big Easy. A moniker that accurately describes his syrupy swing but belies his competitive nature.
Though it may not be exposed on the surface, the 33-year-old South African wants desperately to win ' particularly major championships.
That fire burned brighter than ever in 2002 at Muirfield, and almost caught him ablaze.
Els nearly blew everything that Sunday: A three-stroke lead on the back nine, the everlasting impression of his Harry Houdini bunker shot at the 13th, his most coveted prize.
Not winning a major for almost five years, I think it started building in me. And when I had the chance last year ' I was quite tense last year, Els said.
Hearing the Syren's song, Els nearly wrecked his ship with a double bogey at 16. But a birdie at 17 and a two-putt par at the last assured a chance at professional salvation. Five more pars later, he had held off Thomas Levet, Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby, and claimed his first major title since the 1997 U.S. Open.
I made those mistakes, but I prevailed in the end, he said. And it gave me a hell of a boost.
To say the least.
Els won the Cisco World Match Play and the Nedbank Challenge later that year. He then won the first two events on the PGA Tour in 2003, and two more tournaments in Australia.
Then, for reasons he never fully explained, Els popped a punching bag. And the punching bag popped back, injuring his right wrist.
He tried to downplay the damage, but the effects were obvious in his results. He didnt contend in the Masters or U.S. Open. And simply put, he stopped winning.
That was until last weeks Barclays Scottish Open. Like in the days of old ' or back in February ' Els struck a hot iron early and waltzed his way into the winners circle.
Meanwhile, back in the States, Tiger Woods was winning the Western Open, with equal ease.
For Ernie, it was win No. 5 on the season. For Tiger, No. 4.
Thanks to knee surgery, Woods was sidelined during the Ernie Els World Domination Tour. But when he returned he promptly reminded everyone that this was still his stage, and he no designs on sharing.
Woods won three of his first four tournaments out of the blocks, but, like Els, cooled off considerably thereafter. Tiger had only one top-10 in a span of six starts before corralling another trophy at Cog Hill.
So here they are. The worlds top 2 players. Both fresh off victory.
I think there are more than just two of us playing the tournament, cautioned Woods.
Yes, but the prospect of a 1 versus 2 Sunday showdown is too exciting. It become even more enticing when you consider that the last time Royal St. Georges hosted an Open, in 1993, most of the top players in the world were in the running.
Woods is major-less in over a year. And if he doesnt repeat, Els will be so after this week. Both want very much to return or remain, as the case may be, a reigning major champion.
Woods has won this championship before, doing so at St. Andrews ' the second of four consecutive major titles ' in 2000. That year, Els entered the Open a winner at Loch Lomond ' just as he does this year. Of course, it didnt work out for him three years ago.
Tiger played some different golf that week, he said in a manner that still offers bewilderment at Woods eight-shot win.
By contrast, Els entered last year's Open with but a strand of confidence. And look at him now. After a two-week break to recharge the batteries following the Buick Classic, he is again beaming with the assuredness born at Muirfield.
I feel like I want to play again, Els said. Ive brought form and Im feeling good.
My short game is good. My long game is good. Theres no reason why I shouldnt be playing well now.
This is Els second trip to Royal St. Georges. He played as a bright-eyed 23-year-old a decade ago. One who entered without expectation, but left with a tie for sixth place and an extreme boost in esteem.
I had a good learning experience in 93. I definitely did not come here trying to win that championship, I was just trying to make enough money and learn, and thats what I did that year, said Els. I had a very good tournament.
And so he hopes for another one this time around. Only, this time a good tournament will not result in a competitive top-10. It will only be had in becoming the first player since Tom Watson, in 1983, to successfully defend his title.
When asked about his chances to do so, the opportunity to make more history, to add to his legacy, and even beat the best player in the world in the process, Els answered with ease: I really feel good about this week.'
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    Watch: Tiger's Saturday birdies at Honda

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 9:20 pm

    Tiger Woods was in almost total control of his game for the majority of his third round Saturday at PGA National. And although he was once again bit by the Bear Trap, the 14-time major winner tapped in for birdie at the par-5 18th to post a round of 1-under 69 and fight his way back to even par for the week.

    Four back to start the day, Woods parred his first seven holes before pouring in his first birdie via this flagged iron from 139 at the par-4 eighth:

    Woods hit three more quality approaches at 9, 10 and 11 but couldn't get a putt to drop.

    The lid finally came off the hole at No. 12 when he holed a key 17-footer for par to keep his scorecard clean.

    One hole later, Woods added a second circle to that card, converting this 14-footer for a birdie-3 that moved him back into red figures at 1 under par for the week.

    Unfortunately, the Bear Trap would ensnare Tiger for the second day in a row. Woods, whose iron play had looked as crisp as it had in years, sailed approaches long and left at both the par-3 15th and par-3 17th, leading to bogeys which erased the two birdies he worked so hard to secure.

    But just like on Friday, Woods rallied back with a late birdie, this one at the home hole, to steal back a shot.

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    O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

    DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

    The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

    David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

    Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

    Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.

    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

    ''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

    ''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

    Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

    But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

    ''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

    The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 24, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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    Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

    Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

    In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

    Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

    The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

    “It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

    Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

    “Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

    ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

    “There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

    ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

    “It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”