Els a Big Winner, Volvo Masters Not:
Its funny, really, how some players always seem to do well on a certain course, but I suppose when its your home club you can see why. Ernie Els lives just off the 16th hole at Wentworth; he could probably hit a wedge from his back garden over the house and almost hit the green. He feels comfortable on the West Course, which goes someway in explaining his seven titles at the HSBC World Match Play Championship.
Since 1994 and his first victory, beating Colin Montgomerie in the final, Els has ruled the event. Last week he added that magical seventh win, the most of any player in the tournament, taking out Angel Cabrera in the final with a comfortable 6-and-4 margin. Els then jetted off to Paris in a private jet to watch South Africa beat Argentina in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. His Springboks will now face England in the final, where this writer hopes the South African winning trend will come to an abrupt halt. But back to golf. With his victory Els won $2.03 million, the largest first-prize cheque in our sport. However, because such a large amount would alter the European Order of Merit so drastically, he only gained about $830,000 to be applied to the money list. The paycheck still takes him to the top of the Order of Merit, ahead of second placed Padraig Harrington.
There are three events left on the European Tour schedule: this weeks Portugal Masters; the Mallorca Classic; and the season-ending Volvo Masters ' easily enough time for Padraig, third place Justin Rose, or even fourth placed Henrik Stenson to come through and sneak past Els. All is set for an exciting finish to the season at Valderrama, except theres one problem. Els cannot play the Volvo Masters because hes already contracted to go to the Singapore Masters on the Asian Tour, where more than likely hes receiving a hefty sum just for turning-up. How sad, and embarrassing to all parties involved. Els said after his World Match Play win Id love to (play Valderrama), its a bit of an embarrassment I think, obviously for myself, the Asian Tour and European Tour, they have those two events on the same date. I signed a deal with the sponsor over there (Singapore) and I have to honour the deal. So once again big money talks in golf. How ironic in the first year of the FedExCup, which was a Tiger Woods walk-over, we have a great finale to the European Tour Order of Merit race, but not all the players will be there to face the music during the final few events sound familiar?
A New Star:
Does golf need a new star to fuel some enthusiasm, Wie tried but failed. Tadd Fuijikawa doesnt seem to be going anywhere at present. And Tony Finau well, length isnt everything. How about Rory McIlroy, then. The 18-year-old from Northern Ireland has had an outstanding summer: his performance at the Open Championship; a Walker Cup cap; third place at the Dunhill Links; and fourth last week in Madrid. This young man is a player and having interviewed him at the Open Championship this year, hes a very nice chap to boot. He has, roughly, just under four months to win on the European Tour and become the youngest winner in tour history, breaking the mark set by Dale Hayes at the 1971 Spanish Open. I dont think hes going to need all that time; a win could come very soon.
His finish in Madrid gets him into Portugal this week and at the time of writing, McIlroy is planning to play. One difference between McIlroy and the others I mentioned at the beginning of the article is that he didnt have as much media hype. Ive kept a close eye on his amateur career, which was very impressive. Players were beginning to talk about him, but aside from a few golf publications, he went quietly about his business. At the Open Championship folks were asking, Whos this McIlroy chap? Thankfully, hes let golf do the talking.
Another young star well keep an eye on this week is 20-year-old Melissa Reid, who plays Stage 1 of the L.E.T. Q-school. The reigning British Amateur Stroke-Play champion and lowest amateur at the Ricoh Womens British Open is gunning for a tour card next year. Shell be a great asset to the tour and hopefully will draw some attention to a circuit which deserves some more publicity.
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