Els Charting His Own Course

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2004, 5:00 pm
04 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- Ernie Els boarded his private plane for Thailand feeling as optimistic about his game as he did last year, minus one of the trophies from the Hawaii swing.
'I made big strides this week,' Els said after winning the Sony Open for the second straight year in a playoff. 'It's a long, hard battle all year. I want to give it a go, see if I can contend in the majors and follow my dream and hopefully achieve it one day. I'm feeling good.'
Els swept both PGA Tour events a year ago, the Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open. Everyone figured he was poised to have a big year and challenge Tiger Woods.
He went on to win seven times around the world, but he failed to win a major and lost ground to Woods.
Els had to settle for only one victory on the islands this year, but it was memorable.
His week began on Tuesday when he played a practice round with 14-year-old Michelle Wie, who posted the best score (68) by a woman competing against the men on the PGA Tour.
Wie said her practice round with Els put her at ease for the week, and her performance was remarkable. With two birdies on her final three holes, she missed the cut by one shot.
The Big Wiesy gave way to the Big Easy at the end of the week.
Els closed with a 65 and holed a do-or-die birdie putt from 10 feet on the final hole to force a playoff with Harrison Frazar. On the first extra hole, Els had to get up-and-down for par to extend the playoff. Then after blowing a great opportunity to win, he closed out the Texan with a 30-foot birdie on third playoff hole.
He became the first repeat winner at Waialae since Corey Pavin in 1987, and the first player since Nick Faldo in the Masters (1989-90) to win the same tournament back-to-back in a playoff.
Where does it leave him?
All over the place.
Els is the most global golfer among active players. He will take a week off in Thailand before playing in the Johnnie Walker Classic, then play twice in Australia before returning to the PGA Tour, either in February or March.
When he returns, he has two players to catch.
Woods, who did not play in the Sony Open, remains No. 1 and likely will stay there at least another year.
Vijay Singh is No. 2, and his 10th consecutive finish in the top 10 at the Sony Open did nothing to suggest that was going to change.
Els, however, is concerned only with himself.
Once a sleepy little event, the Sony Open has emerged as one of the best stops on the PGA Tour. Waialae is a classic design that tests all aspects of the game, and with much of the country stuck in the snow, Honolulu is not the worst place to be in January.
'This used to be a hidden gem,' Els said.
Asked if he would advise Woods to play at Waialae, Els smiled.
'No,' he said. 'Why should he come? He can stay in Florida.'
Els, once spooked by the sight of Woods winning four straight majors and dominating golf, has been making those jokes for the better part of a year.
Even so, he is conditioning his psyche to pay more attention to his own game than to what Woods is doing.
But the two might cross paths more often this year.
Woods is scheduled to play in the Dubai Desert Classic in early March, where Els is the defending champion. There also is speculation that Woods will play at the World Match Play Championship in England in the fall, were the Big Easy is defending his title and aiming for a record sixth victory.
Does it matter where Woods plays?
'Tiger is Tiger,' Els said. 'You know he's going to be around. It really doesn't matter all that much. Hopefully, I can play like at Dubai when we meet again. I just want to get better and stay on course.'
It isn't just Woods he is chasing.
Vijay Singh has emerged as another layer for Els to get through.
The big Fijian made some bad swings and caught some bad breaks at the Sony Open, taking a double bogey in three rounds. He also made 19 birdies and two eagles, and when the final scores were tallied, he had his 10th consecutive top-10 finish dating to the PGA Championship in August.
Still, Els reminded everyone at Waialae that he is still a player who can win any week.
His performance at the Sony Open suggests he should buy some property along Waialae. Els has shot all 16 rounds in the 60s since he started playing the tournament in 2001. He has never finished worse than fifth.
A lei was draped around his neck as he left for the airport Sunday night. He had a beer in his hand, and his spirits were high. Despite his nickname, he is not one to relax when it comes to his golf.
Els could have won the Sony Open much earlier than a playoff if not for a silly three-putt bogey on the 15th. Frazar took advantage by catching Els with a birdie on the 17th, and the Texan twice had putts that would have won.
'I can get better,' Els said. 'Look at 15 -- you three-putt when you shouldn't. Then you make it really hard on yourself. There are still things I can improve on. I've got to keep grinding away.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”