Els Searching for Answers
AKRON, Ohio -- The majors over, Ernie Els went to Firestone with another chance to be No. 1 in the world.
He never broke par.
And he has rarely cared so little.
Its a pity this week was this week, Els said after finishing the NEC Invitational at 13 over, his highest score over par in a non-major since the 1995 Tour Championship at blustery Southern Hills.
If it was a week later, he added, maybe I could have played golf.
Els unleashed that easy smile, but it was clear the wounds were still fresh from a season of major heartache. Four times in contention. Three times with a putt on the 18th hole that could have changed everything.
One look at his score last week and it was painfully obvious that he would rather have been anywhere else than a $7 million World Golf Championship. Someone suggested he was at Firestone in body, but not in spirit.
Barely in body, Els replied. I felt pretty bad.
A year ago, Els won four of his first five tournaments and looked unstoppable as the major championship season approached. Then he injured his wrist on a punching bag, lost his momentum and never came close to winning a major.
This time, he feels like the punching bag.
Im three shots away from winning three majors'this close, he said, pinching his thumb and index finger together. This year, the hammer has been on my head. And I had to pick myself up every time.
Phil Mickelson was five shots away from the Grand Slam, but at least he can spend his offseason deciding what to serve his fellow Masters champions for dinner next April.
Tiger Woods always talks about giving himself a chance in the majors.
Think he wouldnt love to have a year like Els?
A lot of people would love to have my year, Els said. Its just the bloody results that hurt.
Els had one arm in the green jacket, making two eagles in the final round on his way to a 67. He was on the practice green as Mickelson stood over an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Masters. The thunderous cheer that followed is still ringing in Els ear.
He picked himself up in time to get into the final group at the U.S. Open, two shots behind Retief Goosen. A double bogey on the first hole sent him to an 80, his worst score ever in the major he has won twice.
Then came the British Open, where Els made a dynamic rally with birdies on the 16th and 17th at Royal Troon, followed by a 7-iron into 12 feet and a chance to win the claret jug. He had to be careful not to run the putt 6 feet by, left it a few inches short and never made another putt that mattered in a playoff loss to Todd Hamilton.
Still, he mustered up one last fight.
Els hit the purest shot at Whistling Straits, a 2-iron to within tap-in range for birdie on the 518-yard 15th hole'into the wind, no less'and followed with another birdie to give himself a chance. But his drive barely went through the fairway on the 18th, leaving him no shot at the flag. He wound up with a three-putt bogey from 80 feet, which ultimately left him one shot out of the playoff.
I just want to forget about what happened, Els said. I want to start fresh again.
Els has been down this road before.
Three years ago at Southern Hills, where he finished 14 over in the U.S. Open, he spoke softly about losing his fire. Els had finished runner-up in three majors the year before, a mental blow that carried over into the 2001 season. It was the only time in his career that he failed to win on the PGA Tour.
But he regrouped. He found that edge. He won the British Open at Muirfield.
Els was in a fog at Firestone, but he might have been more guilty of looking ahead than looking behind.
He said he would take a week off to play with his family, then start working his body back into shape. He talks about starting the process over, and analyzing why he didnt win a major.
Was it simply a matter of three putts?
Maybe theres more to it than that, Els said. And maybe thats what Ill find out.
They call him the Big Easy. Truth is, fewer guys are harder on themselves than Els. When someone asked if Els might feel better about his season in the majors'four great chances'as times passes, the slightest snarl crossed his lips.
No, he said. I want to feel determined. Ive gone too far to feel this is as far as I can go. I want to feel determined to get back to winning majors. I feel like I need to do it right now.
The only thing he feels good about is his schedule, which he felt enabled him to peak at the majors. Els remains angry at the PGA Tour for making him play an extra event to compensate for the tournaments he plays overseas (dont expect him to return to La Costa any time soon for the Match Play Championship), but he wont waste energy on that battle.
He has to figure out how to get over the hump.
Ill find an answer, he said.
The Masters is 224 days away. For Els, it cant get here soon enough.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Watch: Hahn slam-dunks ace on 11th hole
There are aces, and there are slam-dunk aces. No question which one this one by James Hahn on the 154-yard 11th hole was.
It was Hahn's first ace on the PGA Tour.
Els' nephew Rebula wins Amateur Championship
Ernie Els is one proud uncle.
His nephew, Jovan Rebula, won the Amateur Championship on Saturday at Royal Aberdeen to become the first South African to capture the title since Bobby Cole in 1966.
Rebula, a junior at Auburn, will join his famous uncle in Carnoustie next month for The Open. He also will get invites to the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Rebula defeated Ireland's Robin Dawson, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final.
"It’s unreal," Rebula said. "It’s really something that is hard to describe. I feel like many have been in this position before but it’s an unreal feeling. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet but hopefully tomorrow morning I can wake up and I will feel a little different."
Rebula received plenty of texts from Els throughout the week, and the encouragement paid off. Rebula opened a 1-up lead after 18 holes, and he extended his advantage by winning the 26th and 27th holes. He was 5 up with six to play before finally closing out Dawson on the 16th hole with an up-and-down from the bunker.
"It’s been a long week and especially today," Rebula said. "I should have finished maybe a couple of holes earlier, but it’s been awesome. A very tiring week. I’m standing here right now and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through me."
Squirrel gets Rory's round off to a rocky start
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy’s third round at the Travelers Championship got off to a peculiar start before he even hit a shot.
McIlroy had just been introduced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands and was ready to unload on his opening drive of the day when a squirrel ran across the tee box a few feet in front of him.
Squirrel who interrupts swings > Guy who yells "Baba Booey"— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) June 23, 2018
Every time. pic.twitter.com/IvJGTVtHTC
McIlroy stopped his swing and laughed it off, but the squirrel continued to linger for several seconds, criss-crossing from one side of the packed tee box to the other. And while this was no black cat, the pump-fake to start his round didn’t exactly help the Ulsterman.
McIlroy ultimately blocked his drive into the right rough after enduring his brief rodent delay en route to an opening bogey, and amid soft conditions at TPC River Highlands he played his first five holes in 2 over. McIlroy started the day at 7 under, three shots behind leader Brian Harman.
Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead
PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.
Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.
Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.
Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.
Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.
Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.
Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.