ORLANDO, Fla. – The back of Ernie Els’ white Escalade was filled with luggage, the harbinger of a road trip that will take him from Houston to Augusta National and, with a little luck, a PGA Championship clear of a career Grand Slam.
But before that trip begins the Big Easy will need to finish a Florida Swing that refuses to end and took an anxiety-filled turn just moments before Bay Hill became simply a bay.
Less than 2 minutes after Els putted out for bogey on the par-3 14th hole, which was preceded by a double bogey at the 13th a weather warning rattled the Bay Hill calm, sending players and spectators scrambling for cover and Els searching for some solace.
“It’s going to be a difficult evening for me,” said Els after officials called play for the day and announced the final round will resume at 10 a.m.
Officials had delayed calling play as long as they could but a steady downpour quickly rendered Bay Hill a soggy mess.
“The 16th is a lake,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules. “The golf course is unplayable.”
Whether Els’ game is in similar shape when play resumes at 10 a.m. (ET) on Monday remains to be seen. He waited out the delay in player dinning, rehashing his sloppy finish ad nauseam.
But as he left the property Els was trying to remain upbeat, although he didn’t seem to be having much success.
“I will be thinking about it tonight at dinner,” said Els, who led by as many as five strokes through 12 holes but was two clear of Kevin Na when the horn blew. “I have a two-shot lead now and I started with a one-shot lead. If you would have told me I’d be 1 under (for the day) at the beginning I would have taken it.”
As Sunday’s storm blows through the area the winds are expected to become stronger and from the west, which will make the par-5 16th hole downwind.
“Having 16 downwind tomorrow, with this weather now and everything soft, it might be an advantage (for those chasing Els),” said Chris Couch, among a group tied at 8 under and three behind Els.
Els, however, hadn’t moved on from Sunday’s action.
“I’m going to keep thinking about the shot at 13 (which he hit into a water hazard),” he said.
Unfortunately, he has an entire night to move on.