Els still riding high after playing with POTUS

By Rex HoggardFebruary 14, 2017, 10:40 pm

LOS ANGELES – “Would you be available to play with the president of the United States of America?”

Ernie Els wasn’t the first PGA Tour professional to answer a phone call that began with such a request, but he may have been the most surprised.

Els was sitting at home in South Florida nursing a sore neck after withdrawing from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when his phone rang last Friday. It was David Trout, the director of golf at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., with an once-in-a-lifetime request.

“Bang, there goes my hair again,” Els smiles as he glances down at his arm and the byproduct of lingering chills. “Of course I would [play], what kind of question is that? I would play with him even if I was half dead.”

Els had met Donald Trump before and despite what has become an increasingly polarizing personality, he respected him. The real-estate-mogul-turned-leader-of-the-free-world had become influential in golf long before he moved into the White House and the South African had worked with him on various projects involving his foundation.

But this was different. This was POTUS along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the entire world watching.

“It was one of the most special groups of people I’ve been around. I played with the queen of Malaysia, I’ve played with other presidents, but this is the most powerful guy in the whole world and to see him in his full security detail, it’s impressive,” said Els on Tuesday as he prepared for this week’s Genesis Open. “But to play with him as president puts him in another atmosphere.”

Els said he met with the Japanese prime minster at about 9 a.m. on Saturday at Trump National Golf Club, one of Trump’s numerous golf properties. Although the Big Easy said he’d never played golf with Trump before, he could easily imagine how this time would have been different.

While opinions on Trump vary wildly and it certainly has been an eventful few weeks for the president, for Els this had nothing to do with the current state of American politics or campaign promises. This was an opportunity to be savored.

“It would have been like a buddy back then, but it’s all about the President of the United States,” Els said. “I was all about, ‘Mr. President’ and ‘sir’ and all of that. I wanted to use that protocol because that’s what a man in that position deserves.”

Like many people in golf, Els has a unique perspective on the president. Before Trump went on the campaign trail, he was one of the game’s most influential executives who may exude a ruthless exterior but, in truth, embraces the central tenets of the game, most notably golf’s many charitable components.

In 2015, the Els Center of Excellence opened in Jupiter. The school for Autistic students is part of the Els for Autism foundation, which is supported through various tournaments and outings. It’s also how Els first met the future president.

“[Trump] has a lot of [golf] properties and he’s given us a couple of his properties free of charge,” Els said. “That’s a huge help because we have to pay green fees and everything at other courses. He’s always been helpful.”

For much of last Saturday’s round, the conversation with the First Golfer focused on Els’ foundation and how the president could help.

“He wants to be helpful, he wants to be in,” Els said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He wants to know everything.”

As is always the case when it comes to Trump and golf there was also a competition, with the president teaming with the Japanese prime minister and Trout against Els.

“That’s a fair fight,” Els laughed with an eye roll.

At this point diplomacy gets the best of Els, who said he started the round slowly as he recovers from a bout with the flu as well as the lingering neck injury.

“I got it going on the back nine, made some birdies and stuff,” he added with a wink. “I’d call it a tie. How’s that for a diplomatic answer?”

Els really doesn’t do politics, which is probably a result of growing up in South Africa, but he certainly proved to be a quick study when it came to international relations and executive privilege.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.