Success this season has Ernie Els at ease

By Associated PressApril 8, 2010, 2:35 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ernie Els shook hands with fans between holes, and stopped to take a picture with one on his way up the 17th fairway. He even posed with a “Flat Stanley” as he made his way to the putting green.

Don’t make too big a deal of it, but the Big Easy is feeling mighty at ease at this Masters.

“I don’t want to get too overconfident,” Els said Wednesday at the Par-3 tournament. “But at least I’ve brought a little game here.”

That’s a bit of an understatement.

The three-time major champion comes to Augusta National playing his best golf in years. He ended a two-year drought at the World Golf Championship at Doral, then became the tour’s only double winner two weeks later with a victory at Bay Hill. It was the first time Els had won back-to-back tournaments in seven years.

He has four top-10 finishes in his eight PGA Tour starts this year, and has climbed to eighth in the world rankings, up nine spots from where he finished last season.

“I haven’t been in this kind of form coming in here for many years,” Els said.

Not that it’s drawn much notice. Els, Steve Stricker, Anthony Kim—no one is getting anything more than a cursory glance with Tiger Woods playing his first tournament since the shocking sex scandal that turned the world’s most famous athlete into tabloid fodder. Even defending Masters champion Angel Cabrera was able to walk by a group of reporters without being stopped Tuesday. They were all too busy keeping an eye out for Mark O’Meara, Woods’ playing partner Tuesday and Wednesday.

“People are not going to be talking about who’s in form until probably Thursday morning when we start the event,” Els, who didn’t make the cut for the formal pre-tournament interviews, said after his win at Bay Hill. “It’s going to be all about Tiger and him coming back and everything. So I think we will all be sideshows until Thursday morning. And I think we’re fine with that. Everybody is fine with that.”

It might be the best thing for Els, actually.

The South African is a two-time winner at the U.S. Open (1994 and 1997), and he won the 2002 British Open at Muirfield. But it was the Masters that he stayed up late to watch as a youngster in South Africa, and it’s the tournament closest to Els’ heart.

And it’s also the one that has broken it—repeatedly.

He was runner-up to Vijay Singh in 2000 because he couldn’t get a putt to drop over his last three holes. After top-10 finishes the next three years, he thought 2004 was finally going to be his year. Seemed it, too, when he took a two-stroke lead on Phil Mickelson with an eagle—his second of the day—on the par-5 13th.

But he two-putted for a par on 17 and drove into a bunker so deep on 18 he couldn’t even see the flag, then had to wait out Mickelson in hopes of a playoff. Unable to watch, he munched on an apple and then headed to the putting green.

He didn’t see Mickelson make the 18-foot birdie putt that gave him his green jacket, but he heard the raucous cheers. Els tossed his putter aside and quietly walked away.

“It’s disappointing,” he said then. “I’ve got to take stock after this.”

In the years that followed, there were some who wondered if he would recover. Though he went on to win the Memorial in 2004, it was one of only three victories until this year. His slump between the 2008 Honda Classic and Doral was the longest of his career.

Meanwhile at the Masters, he hasn’t made the cut the last three years.

“It’s always in my head this time of the year,” Els said at Bay Hill. “You try and downplay it, but you do think about it.”

Maybe that’s why he got testy when approached after Wednesday’s practice round.

“I just feel good,” Els said. “Give me a break. What can I tell you?”

Els had been decidedly relaxed during the round, laughing and joking with fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, and Australia’s Marc Leishman. He tipped his cap when fans yelled out, “This is the year!” and “Win this thing, Ernie. Come on!” And when a fan waiting in the crosswalk on the 17th fairway jokingly asked if he could get a picture, Els obliged.

“He was pretty low-key,” Leishman said, “talking about anything but golf.”

But his friends know the real score—for Els, it’s all about golf.

“He’s hitting it pretty good,” Leishman said. “He’ll be hard to beat.”

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up

 

TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.

 

-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.


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Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.