Ernie Els back in contention

By Randall MellSeptember 3, 2009, 4:00 pm
DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. –  Ernie Els is fighting his way back.

After wandering to the game’s fringe, among the extras on golf’s grandest stages, he’s working his way back to the place we’re accustomed to seeing him.

He’s back on leaderboards, back in contention, back in position to win.

Els’ late summer rise makes him one of the favorites to win the Deutsche Bank Championship and a serious contender to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“It’s been coming,” Els said Thursday before his pro-am round. “I still haven’t won this year. I’d love to win a tournament before the end of the year. But at least I’m moving in the right direction.”
Ernie Els at The Barclays
Ernie Els is coming off a tie for second at last week's Barclays at Liberty National. (Getty Images)

Els won the Honda Classic last year, his first PGA Tour title in almost four seasons, but he never rode the momentum back to the game’s highest ranks. He has 44 international titles, 16 PGA Tour victories and three major championship titles, but that resume was beginning to look like a finished work with his game fading. The former No. 1 player in the world had fallen all the way to No. 26 this summer.

“The last couple of years, I haven’t really played to my potential, to where I want to play,” Els said. “I got a win last year, early, and then I really didn’t hit form at all. This year, I started slowly and now I’m starting to come around a little bit. So it’s been kind of an awkward couple of years. I just want to play good. I want to play better. I don’t want to be struggling like I did. There’s no worse feeling in the world to play at a certain level and then drop off, knowing you can do a lot better. It’s quite frustrating.”

Els turns 40 on Oct. 17. That imminent birthday is a wake-up call. Els’ Honda Classic title last season is his only PGA Tour title since 2005.

Els is coming off a tie for second in last week's opening to the FedEx Cup playoffs, The Barclays at Liberty National. That came on the heels of his run at the PGA Championship, where he tied for sixth. Els has finished tied for eighth or better in four of his last six starts.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’ve had a couple of good weeks now,” Els said. “A win is really on my radar. To do it against a field like we have here this week, and in the FedEx Cup race, that would be a great confidence boost.”

What happened to the Big Easy?

There’s been speculation that Tiger Woods wore him out. Els has finished second to Woods seven times, more than anyone else on the PGA Tour. The frustrations led to a belief that Woods had somehow broken Els.

“People who say that are just making stuff up,” said sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who works with Els. “Ernie’s in a really good place right now. He’s just seeing it, hitting it and staying out of his own way. He’s really believing in himself. You can see it.”

Els’ fade can be traced back to a knee injury, a balky putting stroke and a new life’s work that's consuming more of his time.

“My putting stats have been awful all year, so it’s nice to make some putts,” Els said of his run at The Barclays.

Els ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a water skiing accident in the summer of 2005 and struggled in a sluggish recovery. He didn’t rebound nearly as quickly as Tiger Woods did from his knee surgery last year.

Woods said Els did not put in the hard work needed to come back as quickly as he did.

“It takes time,” Woods said. “Ernie is not a big worker physically, and that’s one of the things that you have to do with an ACL repair. You’ve got to really do a lot of work. I feel pretty good with what I’ve done, and I think Ernie, he could have worked a little bit harder.

Related Content

Player: Ernie Els
  • Event: Deutsche Bank Championship
  • Tour: PGA Tour
“But Ernie travels all around the world, more than any other golfer. He plays all over the place, it’s harder for him.”

Els concedes he returned too quickly from surgery, going back to a world travel schedule that was too much too soon.

Through it all, Els’ velvet putting stroke left him, but that’s also starting to come back.

“We all know he’s got the talent,” Woods said. “It’s just a matter of him getting the confidence.”

Another factor is how Els’ heart has been tugged by matters more important than golf the last two seasons.

Quietly, Els has poured himself into making life better for his son, Ben, and other autistic children like him.

After winning the Honda Classic last year, Els used the platform to bolster his efforts to find a cure for autism. It was the week after the victory that Els first revealed that his then 5-year-old son had autism. Els became a spokesman for Autism Speaks. Shortly after, he moved his family to The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., in great measure to get him better care.

“Going public with Ben was a big deal,” Els said. “I didn’t really realize it was going to be that big a deal, and I’ve really thrown new energy into this new project that we’re busy with. We want to build a nice center for autistic kids down there, basically a school in Florida.”

Els reports progress is terrific on the project, that his knee is completely healthy and that his putter is finally cooperating.

“Things are coming around nicely,” Els said.

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.

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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 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.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.