Els brings more awareness to autism
As he walked off the 18th green with a four-shot victory in the CA Championship, ending the longest and most discouraging drought of his career, some well-heeled friends were at cocktail party up the road at PGA National to get ready for a tournament no less important than the World Golf Championship that Els won at Doral.
The Big Easy spent Monday playing and hosting the “Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am,” with a lineup of stars that included Jack Nicklaus, Steve Stricker, Raymond Floyd, Adam Scott and Robert Allenby.
His goal, as ambitious as winning the career Grand Slam, is to raise enough money to build a 30,000-square-foot center in Palm Beach County that eventually would be self-sustaining and treat some 300 children who have autism.
That would include his son, 7-year-old Ben, with his big blue eyes and blonde hair.
“People pay quite a bit of money to play,” Els said of a pro-am that raised $500,000 a year ago. “And obviously, that money goes straight into the Els for Autism Foundation. Our plan is, with this money and the help of investors, to build a really worthwhile center. … In this environment, obviously things are a little difficult to raise money.”
He had gone 54 tournaments worldwide without a victory, and it is little more than a coincidence that the longest stretch without winning in his career came right after going public that Ben was autistic.
Els and his wife, Leizl, had known for a couple of years that the youngest of their two children had autism. It was only in 2008, after winning the Honda Classic, that he wanted the world to know, realizing that Els’ stature in sports could only help raise awareness.
As for the struggles with his golf? That was a battle for Els alone.
He had a couple of close calls, although none in the majors, the most recent in Shanghai when he was 10 under for his round and had a one-shot lead when he tried a heroic shot over the pond—a cut 5-wood to take some distance off from a downhill like—and duffed it, making a bogey and settling for second place.
“I don’t think the motivation was lacking,” Els said. “I just think that I went about it the wrong way. I was almost chasing my own tail a little bit. I was not looking after the smaller things. I was looking at the whole big picture on Thursday morning – ‘Oh, I’m going to win the golf tournament’ – and it takes four days of good play. It takes strategy. It takes mental strength. It takes patience.
“And I kind of let that all out of the window.”
It might have seemed as though the window was closing when Els turned 40 last year, a reminder of dwindling days.
After a sluggish start to the year, he began working harder than ever. After leaving PGA National at the Honda Classic on the weekend, he stopped off at the Bear’s Club to hit balls. When the tournament was over, he was back at Nicklaus’ club each day until twilight, searching for the right ball flight.
He found it in sharing the 54-hole lead with Charl Schwartzel, his 25-year-old protege from South Africa. Although Els looked wobbly coming down the stretch Saturday afternoon by missing short putts, he was practically flawless on Sunday.
Els played bogey-free in the final round for a 6-under 66, with only two bad misses. He hooked one tee on No. 6, then played around the tree and lagged beautifully from 70 feet to get his par. On the 14th, the pivotal hole at Doral, he again went left and clipped a palm tree, leaving him in the rough and unable to get at the flag.
He pitched on 25 feet right of the hole, hopeful of taking a bogey and moving on. With a one-stroke lead about to be erased, however, Els made the par putt on the last turn and was on his way.
“There’s always a turning point,” Schwartzel said. “And it’s amazing. You can just see it. When he knocked it in, I just sort of thought to myself, ‘Don’t let this be the turning point.’ But in the back of your mind … that was big for him, for his confidence.”
Els’ daughter, 10-year-old Samantha, followed him on the weekend. With so much attention on Ben, he is mindful that Samantha gets equal time. She loves to run over to the side of the ropes as her father walks by, making sure he sees her.
Els said Ben is still a few years away from grasping why so many are cheering for his father, the significance of a blue trophy that was the 17th on the PGA Tour for Els, and his 61st win worldwide.
Still, the Big Easy said his boy would watch the video. He knows golf.
“He loves watching me practice,” Els said. “When I’m at the Bear’s Club, he always comes out and gets on the range and watches me play. He tries to hit a couple of shots himself. He just loves being on the golf course with me. Yeah, we’ll show him the tape. I think he’ll get excited about it. I think it will be another couple of years before he understands what we’ve done, but that’s no problem.”
Paisley (61) leads Web.com Tour Championship
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.
The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.
''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''
The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.
''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''
Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.
''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''
Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162
The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.
McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year
ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.
Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.
Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.
“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.
McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.
“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”
Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist
ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.
After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.
He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.
“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.
Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.
“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”
Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead
ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.
Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.
Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.
“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”
Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.
“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.