Els Final Countdown
'He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s,' Els said after losing to him in a playoff at Kapalua.
Now if he can only get Elvis to leave the building.
Because that looks to be the only way the Big Easy can achieve his grandiose goal of becoming No. 1 in the world.
Whether he was simply trying to motivate himself or he truly believed it, Els said toward the end of the 2006 season that he was giving himself three years to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, a spot he has not occupied in nearly 10 years.
The demons were gone from 2004, when he had a chance to win all four majors and came up empty.
The scars were healed from torn knee ligaments the following year.
'It's a hell of a task, but I really believe I can do it,' Els said on the eve of 2007.
Then he watched Woods win seven times, including another major, and build such an enormous lead in the ranking that a three-year plan looked out of reach even in dog years.
'Let's get serious,' Els said in a preview to his 2008 season. 'I have got two years left of my original plan. I have got to start winning tournaments -- fast!'
Then came another devastating blow in Dubai.
Els had the 54-hole lead and was four shots clear of Woods until a finish that was all too familiar.
Woods dropped five birdies over his final seven holes, while Els twice missed par putts inside 6 feet to slip behind. Els' last chance came on the par-5 18th, where a birdie would have forced a playoff. He had 240 yards to the green, but his 5-wood caught a gust and found the middle of the lake, not the ripple effect Els had in mind.
Els walked toward the drop area with his head down and his spirits even lower.
He wrote of his disappointment the next day in his weekly diary on his Web site, but the real frustration was evident by the fact Els never mentioned Woods by name.
'I have to put behind me what happened last week in Dubai,' Els said. 'It's history. There's nothing I can do about it now.'
Els has been runner-up to Woods seven times, more than any other player, and only a bogey at the final hole that dropped him into a tie for third kept that number from going even higher.
The knee is fine. The game is healthy.
The mental scar issue is another matter.
'It's definitely more mental now than physical,' swing coach David Leadbetter said Tuesday at Pebble Beach. 'It's getting aggravating now. It's happened a number of times in different locations. But as I've said to him, he can't get down on himself. It's not as if he played badly. But when Tiger is in that mood, it's tough.'
There have been plenty of audacious comments that relate to Woods over the last couple of years, and Els' stated goal to be No. 1 in three years has to rank among them. What separates it from Rory Sabbatini saying Woods looked 'beatable as ever,' or Ian Poulter saying that when he reaches his full potential 'it will be just me and Tiger,' is that Els has a track record.
Since Woods first became No. 1 in the world, Els is one of only three players to hav.e replaced him, although for the shortest time (nine weeks). The others were David Duval (15 weeks) and Vijay Singh (32 weeks).
Els had every reason to believe he could return to No. 1 based on his ability.
What he didn't take into account was Woods.
There is no denying that the three times Woods lost the No. 1 ranking, he was in the middle of changing his swing -- after winning the '97 Masters (Els, Duval) and in 2003-04 (Singh).
'People ask why we don't stand up to this guy,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'The fact is we are not as good as he is. It all depends on Tiger.'
Woods now appears to be in full flight. Since he tied for 12th at the British Open, he has won six of his last seven tournaments. The exception came at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where he tied for second.
How are you going to beat that?
Els was a victory away from returning to No. 1 in the world in 2004, and he had splendid chances until losing a playoff to Todd Hamilton at the British Open and three-putting from 100 feet on the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship to miss a playoff by one shot.
Padraig Harrington is among those players who do not share their goals. He was asked Tuesday if he ever aspired to be No. 1 in the world, and the Irishman smiled and said, 'If I have, I wouldn't tell you.'
'You never get your goals out there, because you'll be judged by them,' Harrington had said in an interview the day before. 'By trying to motivate himself, he's put more stress on himself.'
That's what Els now faces.
His biggest battle is against time, and not just the two years remaining on his goal to catch Woods. He is 38, and he doesn't have the body or the fitness discipline of Singh, who played his best golf after turning 40.
But the bigger problem is Woods.
'We're in the era -- probably -- of the greatest player ever,' Nick Faldo said Tuesday morning. 'It's a tough time for these guys. He is forcing players to change.'
The one thing Els might need to change is his goal.
What also motivates the Big Easy is to win the career Grand Slam, which for Els means winning the Masters and PGA Championship. Right now, that would be far more realistic to attain than No. 1 in the world.
The sooner Els drops his obsession with Woods, the better his chances.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Casey in line to make Ryder Cup after Travelers T-2
Despite coughing up a four-shot lead at the Travelers Championship, England's Paul Casey moved into a qualifying position to make his return to the Ryder Cup this fall in Paris.
Casey struggled Sunday at TPC River Highlands, shooting a 72 as Bubba Watson raced to victory with a 63. But a four-way share of second place was still good enough to lift Casey into fourth place among those not already qualified on the World Points list, with the top four Europeans from that list in August punching their tickets to Le Golf National.
Casey has played in three Ryder Cups before, but none since 2008. After renouncing his European Tour membership a few years ago, he reinstated it for the 2018 season in order to be eligible to return to the biennial matches.
Here's a look at the updated standings for Europe, with the top four players from each points list ultimately joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Francesco Molinari
5. Thorbjorn Olesen
6. Matthew Fitzpatrick
1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Alex Noren
4. Paul Casey
5. Matthew Fitzpatrick
6. Ian Poulter
On the American side of the ledger, Watson jumped two spots to fifth with his third win of the year and seemingly locked up his spot on the squad, while Bryson DeChambeau moved inside the top eight with a top-10 finish in Connecticut.
Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship earning automatic bids:
1. Brooks Koepka
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Patrick Reed
4. Justin Thomas
5. Bubba Watson
6. Jordan Spieth
7. Rickie Fowler
8. Bryson DeChambeau
9. Webb Simpson
10. Phil Mickelson
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Brian Harman
Watson cracks top 15 in world with Travelers win
After his third win in the last five months, Bubba Watson is back on the cusp of the upper echelon in the world rankings.
Watson started the year ranked No. 89 in the world, but after a three-shot victory at the Travelers Championship the southpaw moved up seven spots to No. 13 in the latest rankings. It marks his best position since a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February 2017.
Watson stayed one spot behind Paul Casey, who was one of four runners-up in Connecticut and rose one position to 12th as a result. Beau Hossler's T-2 finish helped him jump 24 spots to No. 64, while J.B. Holmes went from 93rd to 75th with the same result. Stewart Cink, who grabbed a share of second with a final-round 62, went from No. 149 to No. 95 and is back inside the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time since September 2011.
Matt Wallace, who won the BMW International Open on the European Tour, went from 91st to 66th.
There was only one change among the top 10 in the rankings, as an idle Jon Rahm moved past Jordan Spieth at No. 5 despite Spieth's T-42 finish at TPC River Highlands. At No. 6, Spieth is at his lowest point in the rankings since before last summer's victories at Travelers and The Open.
Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Rahm. Spieth slid to No. 6, with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Poised to return to competition this week at the Quicken Loans National, Tiger Woods fell three spots to No. 82 in the latest rankings.
After Further Review: Spieth needs a break
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...
Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.
Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.
A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.
So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray
On the difference between this week and last week ...
There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.
Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.
At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard
On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...
Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.
Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.
Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell
Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup
CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.
Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.
After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.
“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”
Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.
“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”