He Aint Done Yet

By Randall MellMarch 15, 2010, 6:27 am

2010 WGC-CA Championship

DORAL, Fla. – Ernie Els deserves one more glorious run.

His scars say so.

Nobody’s heart has been cracked more in gut-wrenching finishes the last decade than Els.

With his victory Sunday at the WGC-CA Championship, Els earned his 61st title around the world, his 17th on the PGA Tour, and yet it’s the painful losses that have come to define the fading arc of his career these past few seasons.

“This was massive,” said Ricci Roberts, Els’ caddie. “A lot of people have doubted him. He ain’t done yet.”

With a masterful 6-under-par 66 Sunday, Els won for the first time in two years, just the second time on the PGA Tour in six years.

Ernie Els
Ernie Els reacts to his first PGA Tour win in over two years. (Getty Images)
Els claimed more than a trophy in the fading South Florida light. He claimed the confidence, momentum and hope he’ll need to chase down dreams that seem within reach again.

Those ambitions seemed lost in dramatic failures, in the disappointment that grew so heavy in trying so hard and coming so close.

You can trace it all back to 2004, when Els had a chance to win all four majors and didn’t win any of them.

That’s the year he had one arm in the green jacket, where he led by three shots on the back nine only to finish and watch Phil Mickelson birdie five of the last seven holes to beat him. It’s the year he went out with Retief Goosen in the final Sunday pairing of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock and shot 80. That’s the year Todd Hamilton beat him in a playoff at the British Open and the year he three-putted the final green at the PGA Championship to miss out on a playoff.

Els hasn’t been the same since. His victory Sunday at Doral was just his second on the PGA Tour since that wretched season ended.

There have been other scarring losses, too many of them in beat downs at the hands of Tiger Woods. Nobody’s endured more lashings from Woods in this era than Els. He’s finished second to Woods seven times in his career, more than any other player on the planet. He once lost an eight-shot lead to Woods in the final round of the Johnnie Walker Classic in 1998.

“It’s been a battle,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been on Els’ bag for nearly 18 years. He was there for all three of Els’ major championship triumphs, and he likes his bosses’ chances again. He likes them because of the way Els is putting again.

“He made putts today, which he hasn’t done in two years,” Roberts said. “You make putts and anything’s possible.”

The Masters is a month away, and suddenly Els has to be counted among the favorites. That speaks to what winning at Doral meant. Els has finished sixth or better five times at Augusta National, but he hasn’t contended there since Mickelson beat him in ‘04. He’s missed the cut the last three times he’s played the Masters.

“Two years ago when I won [the Honda Classic], I got all carried away and thought I was going to win Augusta,” Els said. “This time, I just want to take this in.”

Els has tried to push himself back on top before with bold pledges. In ’06, he announced his plan to gain back the No. 1 ranking. That didn’t work out so well. This time, he’s fighting his way back with hard work. He is impressing his inner circle with his devotion to work.

“He’s as dedicated to his game as he was the first day he came out,” his wife, Liezl, said. “Because people call him the Big Easy, it’s to forget how hard he works and how much he wants it.”

Roberts will tell you that Els still burns to win the career Grand Slam. It doesn’t seem so farfetched now that he could still add to his two U.S. Open championships and his British Open title. He needs to win the Masters and the PGA Championship to claim titles in all four majors.

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The Masters will be about overcoming the cruel memories he has there, but Els will have this fantastic Doral finish to feed upon. He didn’t make a bogey in the final round. The balky putting stroke that’s plagued his game for too long is working again. He holed a 24-foot putt to save par at the 14th Sunday. He tamed the Blue Monster with just 26 putts over the final round.

The PGA Championship is at Whistling Straits, where Els tied for fourth six years ago.

Els’ family and friends know how deep the scars run and how much Els still wants to win majors.

“My cell phone is going berserk,” Liezl said with her husband signing his scorecard.

The victory means her husband, once the No. 1 player in the world, is relevant on the big stages again.

“It means he’s back on track,” Liezl said.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.