Els Putting Last Week Behind Him

By Associated PressApril 14, 2004, 4:00 pm
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Ernie Els spent a tough evening Sunday reliving all the 'what if' moments in his stirring second-place Masters finish to Phil Mickelson last week.
'After the seventh beer, though,' said the Big Easy, laughing, 'I felt a lot better.'
You would have to drink heavily to forget that ending.
Els posted an unbelievable 67 in the final round - helped by eagles on the eighth and 13th holes - only to watch Phil Mickelson shoot a career-defining 31 on Augusta National's back nine to win by a stroke.
'It was a good heavyweight fight, wasn't it?' Els said Wednesday.
Certainly the best on the PGA Tour this year.
Els joked and grinned his way around Harbour Town Golf Links, where he will tee off Thursday at the MCI Heritage.
Still, it was a bitter defeat at a tournament the South African star desperately craved. He returned to his home in Orlando, Fla., and went over every missed shot, botched putt, failed gamble or safe play he could have turned into something special. A couple of shots here or there and Els knew he would be the one celebrating instead of Mickelson.
'What if, what if, what if,' he said, smiling. 'There's so many.'
What helped the recovery were several friends from South Africa at their first Masters amazed by what they saw. Their good cheer, Els said, perked him up and sent him off to the MCI with a feeling of accomplishment rather than one of dread. He spent Monday and Tuesday around his family before coming to Hilton Head.
'You can't kill yourself over it,' he said. 'What's over and done is done.'
Els has two U.S. Opens and a British Open. However, he has rarely felt the intense excitement of his closing dual at the Masters.
'It's almost an out-of-body experience, feeling you can do whatever it takes to succeed,' he said. 'I could see that Phil was in the exact same frame of mind.'
For the first time, Mickelson won at one of the game's major events. Mickelson put an 8-iron about 18 feet away on the 18th green, then made the birdie putt for victory. Els was on the putting green practicing for a playoff when he heard the thunderous roar that told him his day was done.
It was the fifth-straight year Els finished sixth or better at Augusta National.
The crowd at Harbour Town treated Els like he had won the Green Jacket. They cheered and clicked cameras as he walked down fairways and up to greens. 'Good playing, Ernie,' a woman called out after his opening pro-am tee shot. Els graciously turned, smiled and held the pose for a snapshot.
Davis Love III, a five-time MCI Heritage winner and defending champion, knows what Els is dealing with. In 1995, Love shot a final-round 66 than watched helplessly as friend Ben Crenshaw made birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to win the Masters.
'I had a feeling that (Els) might've won,' Love said.
Instead, Mickelson cracked through the mantle that hung over him for years - and one Love ended with his 1997 PGA victory - as the tour's best player without a major.
Love talked with Els briefly since Sunday. 'He feels like, 'Hey, I played great down the stretch. I felt like I won the golf tournament when I walked off 18th green and somebody just came in played better than me and beat me,' ' Love said. 'I felt the same satisfaction in '95 that I got beat by a guy that played special golf.'
Els says he wrote Mickelson as much in a congratulatory letter. The two haven't spoken yet.
Els' luck at Harbour Town has been almost as star-crossed as at Augusta. He had three straight sub-70 rounds and with 12 holes left had a five-stroke lead before falling to champ Stewart Cink by that many in 2000.
Els was again ahead here in the final round a year ago. But he drove out of bounds on the 16th hole for a double bogey, then followed with closing bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes to tie for 10th place.
Els, 34, expects he'll have plenty more chances for success at Harbour Town - and at Augusta National.
'I don't feel all that terrible,' he said, 'and we move on.'
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    Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

    The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

    “I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

    Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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    As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

    “I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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    Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

    Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

    “I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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    Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

    “[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

    Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

    “He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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    This week, let the games(manship) begin

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

    What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

    During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

    “Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

    Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

    “There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

    Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

    Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

    “Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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    Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

    “I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

    While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

    But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

    “It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

    It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

    McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

    It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

    “Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

    Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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    Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

    By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

    While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

    The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

    "I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

    Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

    According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

    "I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

    Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

    Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

    "I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

    Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.