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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  • Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

    With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

    Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

    The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

    Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

    In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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    Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

    By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

    After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

     There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



    It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

    It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

    “The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

    In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



    Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

    Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

    “You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

    Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



    Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

    If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

    For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

    Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



    Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

    While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

    When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

    Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



    After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

    The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

    That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

    The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

    While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



    Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

    Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

    “We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

    The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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    Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

    John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

    That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

    Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

    Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

    Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


    Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


    Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

    World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

    Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.