Els finishes off Bay Hill for second conseucitve win

By Rex HoggardMarch 29, 2010, 11:17 pm

Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – 1998 called, it wants its leaderboard back.

Or so it seemed at an Arnold Palmer Invitational that felt eerily similar to the version played a dozen years ago, complete with the same champion (Ernie Els), same supporting cast (Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie), host (Palmer) and, after a series of timely nip/tucks, a strangely similar golf course.

But then the last month has had a “Florida Swing Time Machine” feel to it starting with Els’ victory at Doral, Furyk’s drought-ender at the Transitions Champion and, finally, a not-so-picture-perfect victory lap for the Big Easy at Bay Hill.

“Looking back this is good,” said Els, who stumbled badly on Sunday before a weather delay gave him a reprieve. “To struggle and battle through was good. I’ve not done that in a while.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els celebrates his 18th career PGA Tour title. (Getty Images)
After 3 ½ days of “good” play, Els’ game was anything but over his last six holes. Following his double bogey-bogey finish on Nos. 13 and 14 on Sunday, Els sought relief on the Lake Nona practice tee early Monday. He hit balls in a drenching rain before driving across town to resume his final turn searching answers. He found only more questions.

Instead, the South African learned a lesson in less-than-perfect golf, one-putting three of his final four holes from 7 (No. 15), 6 ½ (16) and 8 (18) feet on Monday to par his way in and hold off Kevin Na (69) and Edoardo Molinari (69) for a two-stroke victory.

“The last 20 hours I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to finish this thing,” said Els, who carded a disjointed 71 for an 11-under 277 total and his second victory in as many starts.

It is curious, however, that Els – renowned his entire career for his silky swing – would collect Tour tilt No. 18 courtesy a dogged short game. Curious, that is, to everyone except Butch Harmon, the swing guru who was credited with tweaking Els’ game into winning form early in the week at Doral.

“It was simple stuff, just pay attention to ball position, alignment, posture. Just basic stuff,” said Harmon, who spoke with Els briefly on Thursday at Bay Hill. “Confidence is huge for all of them. You don’t have to be so aggressive. Don’t have to hit it to 4 feet every hole. You could tell he felt good about himself because he started seeing the ball go into the hole.”

For 21 hours the only thing Els had in his head was the vision of things going sideways after he was pulled from the golf course on Sunday after hitting from a fairway bunker and into a water hazard (No. 13) and into a poor lie (No. 14).

In many ways the last 22 hours was a metaphor for the last 22 months. Before his masterpiece at Doral Els’ last victory was the 2008 Honda Classic. Throughout that slump a knee injury made the game, and practice, difficult and, more importantly, revelations that his son, Ben, had been diagnosed with autism made his pursuit of swing perfection seem trivial.

But 2010 brought changes to the Els’ household, most notably a reduced schedule and a passion for golf that had been missing. Solid finishes in Hawaii, San Diego and Los Angeles were precursors to the WGC-CA Championship and Charl Schwartzel, the young South African who took Els to the wire at Doral, had a front-row seat.

“I could see he was close to winning again. I didn’t expect it to be that quick, but the signs were there,” said Schwartzel, a house guest of Els’ before and after his victory at Doral. “I could see every day he was getting better and better.”

The next stop for Els will be Augusta National, where he was headed Tuesday morning for a practice round and where he will be on a short list of favorites.

Phil Mickelson can’t say the same thing. Six events into 2010 Lefty is “close” but still searching for his first victory. The good news: the last time Mickelson went this deep into a season without a title was 2006, when he got off the schneid with the Georgia double – back-to-back victories at the BellSouth Classic and Masters.

Davis Love III, however, was pulling pages from Lefty’s high-wire playbook from the outset at Bay Hill, posting just 12 pars through his first 36 holes and playing his opening nine on Friday in 3 under . . . without a par.

“It was entertaining,” said Love, who struggled on the weekend (74-74) and faded to 14th. “I don't know if you've seen Daniel Chopra do a scorecard but he's got one of those pens with four different colors and I had all kind of colors all over my scorecard. It was very pretty.”

With apologies to Els, there wasn’t much about the week that was pretty.

Ben Curtis, one shot back to start the final round, seemed to run out of steam on Sunday and Monday, closing with 74. Ditto for Furyk, who was one shot better (73) fresh from his first Tour title since 2007. While Chris Couch – who said he’d been passed over for a sponsor exemption into Arnie’s event 18 times, which prompts the question: why didn’t he stop asking at 12? – hit his approach into the 18th on Friday off the rocks and his chance to secure his Tour card on Sunday playing Nos. 11-14 in 3 over to tie for fourth place.

Even Na’s spirited closing challenge was best viewed without pictures, with missed fairways at two of his last four holes and a bogey at the last to give Els a two-shot cushion.

But then if you turn back the clock to Els’ Bay Hill victory 12 years ago that turn wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes. Els began the final round six clear of the field, double bogeyed his second hole and played his last five holes in 1 over.

By comparison, the 2010 take was textbook, and, if one cares to study the tea leaves, a favorable sign of things to come.

It is interesting, if not purely coincidental, that Els’ resurgence dovetails neatly with Tiger Woods’ self-imposed hiatus. Of all of Woods’ on-course marks Els has suffered the most. In 2000, he was a PGA Championship away from the runner-up slam and was gutted in 1998 when Woods rallied from eight-strokes back at the Johnnie Walker Classic.

“It feels like an eternity ago. I was slimmer back then,” Els smiled when asked about his last Bay Hill triumph.

For all the similarities this time just seemed different. Els just seems different.

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.