Mixed Emotions for Big Easy at Famed Riviera

By Associated PressFebruary 14, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Nissan OpenErnie Els returns to the PGA Tour for the first time in eight months, and he could not have picked a more appropriate setting than Riviera Country Club.
 
The Hollywood script of his career undoubtedly would start with something like, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,' and it would take place at the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard. Riviera might be the best reminder of his awesome potential, and the failures that have kept Els from fulfilling it.
 
'I won this event in 1999, shooting 14 under for four rounds to beat Tiger and a couple of other guys,' Els wrote on his Web site before leaving his home outside London for the Nissan Open.
 
The leaderboard that Sunday afternoon was loaded with the biggest names in golf -- Els, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, David Duval and Nick Price, all ranked in the top 10 and separated by two shots until birdies on the 11th, 12th and 13th holes carried the Big Easy to a two-shot victory.
 
At his best, Els could stand toe-to-toe with anyone and not flinch.
 
But that wasn't the case at Riviera four years earlier at the PGA Championship. He was 25 and a rising star, having captured his first major at Oakmont the previous summer by winning the U.S. Open in a three-man playoff. Curtis Strange was so impressed that he referred to Els as 'the next guy,' although it was reported as 'the next god' because of Strange's rich, Virginia drawl.
 
Els was good enough that no one thought the wiser.
 
He dismantled Riviera that week, building a three-shot lead going into the final round, and all that awaited was the coronation. Woods was not around. He was 19 years old, preparing to defend his U.S. Amateur title before starting his sophomore year at Stanford.
 
Golf belonged to a big South African whose swing blended grace with power.
 
And then the little man in his head started harvesting doubt. Els went conservative in the final round as everyone around him was firing at flags, and he wound up with a 72 to tie for third.
 
'Felt I should have won that one, to be honest with you,' Els said.
 
How might his career have been different with that PGA Championship at Riviera?
 
Els would have had consecutive years winning a major, and perhaps would have been better equipped to handle Woods turning pro in '96 and winning everything in sight. Then again, the way Woods has mown through the majors, it might not have mattered.
 
Els returns to Riviera for his 2006 PGA Tour debut, and he finds himself at another crossroads.
 
Coming off knee surgery that kept him out of golf for four months, Els is gearing up for another challenge at a time when Woods has won his last three tournaments and appears to be hitting his stride. Els is now 36, a prime age for golfers, and he plans to cut down on his global travels to give himself the best chance to play well when it matters.
 
His career has been a tug-of-war with Woods, and no one has more rope burns. Els has been runner-up to Woods seven times -- three more than any other player -- and victories like the '99 Nissan Open are rare.
 
More common is what happened two weeks ago in Dubai.
 
Els made a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole, only to watch Woods match his birdie from the final group and force a playoff. Woods went first and hit the fairway on the par-5 18th. Els hooked his drive into the sandy soil of a palm grove, then failed to clear the water by no more than a foot to lose the playoff.
 
'I cannot complain,' Els said that day. 'After all the hassle I had with the leg, to come back -- this was the strongest field in the world this week -- and to almost win it is fine.'
 
It would be easy to look at Dubai as another layer of scar tissue, although Els is looking at a broader picture. His knee is not quite there, but he was good enough to get into a playoff with the world's No. 1 player.
 
Besides, the majors are still two months away.
 
Els was forgotten last year, first because of a lackluster showing in the majors, then when he tore ligaments in his left knee in July during a family holiday in the Mediterranean. But he very well could be the primary rival to Woods in 2006, especially if other members of the Big Five start sliding.
 
Vijay Singh is No. 2 and starting to look ordinary. This is the first week he has taken off -- two weeks in Hawaii, two weeks in the Middle East, followed by Phoenix and Pebble Beach -- and he has not been a factor since losing in a playoff to Stuart Appleby at Kapalua.
 
Something seems to be missing from Phil Mickelson's game, which is not alarming except that he traditionally thrives during the West Coast Swing. Lefty has gone only three seasons in his career without winning before Florida, and two of those years he failed to win a PGA Tour event.
 
Retief Goosen has quietly struggled since closing with an 81 at Pinehurst. When he is on, he can beat anyone. But he continues to search for a swing that will hold up over four days.
 
Woods has had a revolving door of rivals, and it might be Els' turn again.
 
While the Masters is two months away, these next three weeks can set the tone for Els. Riviera is a course that suits his eye. Els dislikes La Costa so much he stayed away for two years, although anything goes in match play. Then comes Doral, where Els won in 2002 by holding off a late charge by Woods.
 
It starts Thursday at Riviera. Still in the prime of his career, Els is not quite finished with the script.
 
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    Davies wins by 10 on 'best ball-striking round'

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 1:53 am

    WHEATON, Ill. - Laura Davies immediately recognized the significance of having her name inscribed on the first U.S. Senior Women's Open trophy.

    It might be a long time before anyone secures the title as emphatically as Davies did.

    Davies went virtually unchallenged in Sunday's final round of the inaugural USGA championship for women 50 and older, claiming the title by 10 strokes over Juli Inkster.

    ''It's great seeing this (trophy) paraded down for the very first time and I get my name on it first, you know?'' Davies said. ''This championship will be played for many years and there will only be one first winner - obviously a proud moment for me to win that.''

    The 54-year-old Davies shot a 5-under 68 to finish at 16-under 276 at Chicago Golf Club.

    It was the English player's 85th career win, and she felt the pressure even though her lead was rarely in danger.

    ''I haven't won for eight years - my last win was India, 2010,'' Davies said. ''So that's the pressure you're playing under, when you're trying to do something for yourself, prove to yourself you can still win.

    ''So this ranks highly up there. And obviously it's a USGA event. It's hard comparing tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements.''

    A 7-under 66 Saturday provided Davies with a five-shot lead over Inkster and what she said would be a sleepless night worrying about the pressure.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The World Golf Hall of Famer widened her advantage early Sunday when she birdied the par-5 second hole and Inkster made bogey. Davies said a par she salvaged at the 10th was another turning point.

    ''It wasn't the greatest hole I ever played, but I think that, to me, was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there.''

    Inkster shot an even-par 73. England's Trish Johnson also shot 73 to finish third, 12 shots back.

    ''I mean, she was absolutely spectacular this week,'' Johnson said about Davies. ''I've played against her for 35 years. Yesterday was the best I have ever seen her play in her entire career.

    ''She just said walking down 18 it was best ball-striking round she ever had. Considering she's won 85 tournaments, that's quite some feat.''

    Danielle Ammaccapane was fourth and Yuko Saito finished fifth. Martha Leach was the top amateur, tying for 10th at 6-over 298.

    Davies plans to play in the Women's British Open next month, and called this win a confidence-booster as she continues to compete against the younger generation. She finished tied for second at the LPGA's Bank of Hope Founders Cup earlier this year.

    ''You build up a little bit of momentum, and a golf course is a golf course,'' Davies said. ''Sometimes the field strength is a little bit different, but in your own mind if you've done something like this, 16 under for four rounds around a proper championship course, it can't do anything but fill you full of confidence.''

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    Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

    SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

    Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

    ''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

    Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

    The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

    Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.


    Full-field scores from the American Century Championship


    ''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

    Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

    Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

    Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

    Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

    The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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    Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

    HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

    Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

    Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

    Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.


    Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players


    The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

    His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

    McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

    He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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    Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

    By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

    Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

    It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

    The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

    The week was more than nostalgic. 

    It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

    In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

    “I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

    Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

    “It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

    Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

    “It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

    Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

    “Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

    She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

    “Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

    At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

    With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

    This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

    “A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

    Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

    “It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

    In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.