Els Clings to Lead at American Express

By Sports NetworkOctober 2, 2004, 4:00 pm
KILKENNY, Ireland -- Ernie Els shot a 4-under 68 Saturday to maintain his two-shot lead through three rounds of the World Golf Championships - American Express Championship. He is at 15-under-par 201 at Mount Juliet Conrad and is two strokes ahead of Denmark's Thomas Bjorn.
Bjorn carded a 6-under 66 to come in at 13-under-par 203. European Ryder Cup teammates David Howell and local favorite Padraig Harrington posted matching rounds of 66 on Saturday and are tied for third with reigning British Open champion Todd Hamilton, who shot a third-round 69. The trio is knotted at minus-12.
The wind was heavy at times on Saturday and weather is expected to be a problem on Sunday. The forecast calls for rain and significant wind gusts in the morning.
Tiger Woods, who battled back problems in the first round, continued to improve physically and fashioned his second consecutive round of 2-under 70 on Saturday. He is part of a group tied for eighth place at 8-under-par 208.
'Certainly it's still sore, but at least I can now move and make a golf swing at it,' said Woods, the two-time defending champion. 'I'm still six shots back, which is a long way back, especially when Ernie is playing the way he is.'
By the time Els teed off on Saturday, several players were in the midst of low rounds. Els did not get off to a great start with four pars to open his round, but broke into red figures with a birdie at the fifth.
Els ran home an 18-foot birdie putt at the eighth to reach 13 under par and go ahead by one. He missed the green with his second at the ninth, and his pitch came up nine feet short. Els' par putt came up short, so the South African fell into a tie for the lead with Bjorn and Harrington.
But Els rebounded. His second at the par-5 10th hit the green, but bounced into the back bunker. Els blasted out to four feet and converted the birdie putt. He got to 14 under for the tournament with a birdie at No. 11.
None of his closest pursuers could wrestle the lead from Els late on the back nine. Els extended his margin at the par-5 17th with a birdie and had a decent look at birdie at Mount Juliet's demanding closing hole. His approach landed 20 feet from the pin on the fringe, but his birdie putt caught a piece of the hole, but never fell.
Still Els has the 54-hole lead in a WGC event and can lock up his first individual victory in this series. Also, if Els can make his way to the winner's circle on Sunday, he will go past Woods into second in the Official World Golf Ranking.
'I worked hard to get to where I am, so I've got a two-shot lead and it's good to be in that position again,' said Els. 'I've got good goals that I still want to achieve in my career and I want to just start working hard again.'
This was a most-unexpected round for Bjorn, who walked off the course the last time he played in Ireland at the European Open. He was frustrated with his game, but is now in position to win.
'I'm very well aware that tomorrow is a big day for me, but nobody can take away the first three days from me, and my golf is certainly going in my direction at the moment,' said Bjorn, who served as one European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer's vice-captains. 'I'm going to go out and try and enjoy this tomorrow, because when you go through a hard time, this is where you want to be.'
Bjorn came out strong on Saturday with birdies at one and two. He eagled the par-5 fifth, but did not card his next birdie until the 10th, when he sank a 10-footer.
Bjorn added a 12-foot birdie putt at the 13th that briefly tied him for the lead. He failed to add any more birdies on the way in, but will play with Els and Howell in Sunday's final threesome.
'I played some good golf,' said Bjorn. 'There was a couple of iffy shots in there, but I guess that's to be expected when the weather is like this. I'm very happy with what I did today.'
Howell mixed three birdies and a bogey on his front side, but it was his play at the beginning of the second nine that vaulted him up the leaderboard. He two-putted from 20 feet for birdie at 10, sank a 22-foot birdie putt at the 11th and knocked a 6-iron to 3 feet to set up birdie at 12. Howell, who went 1-1 in the Ryder Cup, tapped in a 3-footer for birdie at 17 to get within three.
Harrington was flawless in his 66 on Saturday, but did most of his damage on the front side. He made a 15-footer for birdie at one, then drained a 25-foot par save at the second. The Irishman made a 15-footer for birdie at three and made it two in a row at four with a short putt.
The Irishman holed a pair of 15-foot birdie putts at eight and nine, then collected his third straight birdie with a 3-footer at No. 10. Harrington will be in search of his first win on home soil, and the crowd is definitely pulling for him.
'I've gotten some great support,' said Harrington. 'Thankfully I started the right way and it gave some momentum to that crowd. There were some really, really good moments out there.'
Reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen carded a 4-under 68 and is alone in sixth place at 11-under-par 205. Sergio Garcia fired a 5-under 67 and has seventh by himself at minus-10.
Woods was joined in eighth by Darren Clarke (65), the only other player beside Woods to win multiple WGC crowns, Zach Johnson (69) and Lee Westwood (71).
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - WGC-American Express Championship
  • Full Coverage - WGC-American Express Championship
  • Getty Images

    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

    Getty Images

    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.