Ernie a Little Scary Now but Does Tiger Notice
It happened again at the Mercedes Championships. Els has been there before, playing adroitly while sending his challengers gurgling down the drain. This time, it was something extra special, a brilliantly played week in which he set a PGA Tour record of 31-under par.
But oftentimes in the past, he has had a lot of trouble sustaining the brilliance. Will we see that again? Are we expecting too much? Is there really only one Tiger? Or can Ernie build upon the last two or three times hes played golf and truly be a Tiger challenger?
Els, a South African who is 33 now, supposedly is at the peak of his golfing abilities. But he has this one huge handicap working against him. He is a world player.
The abrupt change of scenery, be it Hawaii one week, Australia the following week, South Africa the next, on to England for a couple of tournaments, then back to America, make it very difficult to purr along at that consistently high level. But he enjoys playing around the world, and furthermore he feels it his obligation as both a South African and a European Tour member to take his golfing tools and play the big events around the globe. The fact that he has a home in Orlando and is also a member of the U.S. tour is merely a sidelight. Els is a world player in every sense of the word.
Come February, Woods is supposed to return. Until then, Els will face the same litany everytime he wins a Tiger-less tournament. We know, though, that one of three scenarios exist: A, that Els has become a Woods equal and will prove an equal competitor whenever they bump heads; B, that Els is an equal competitor but gets Tiger-itis when they meet up head-to-head; or C, that Els just isnt in Tigers league.
Up to now, Els has occasionally been a B, where he has been psyched out mentally by Woods, but mostly a C, where Tiger has been clearly superior.
We revisit Ernie-Tiger again because of Els excellence the past month. He blew the entire field away at the Sun City tournament. Only 12 players were in the field, but it was a pretty good cross-section of players from around the globe. And Els shredded the field by eight strokes.
Then at the Mercedes, which matches the 2002 winners, Els beat the elite of the PGA Tour by eight. Of course, one player was missing from both fields ' fellow by the name of Woods. Would Ernie have beaten Tiger during both of those golden weeks? Probably. But then again
Els is not going to dwell on that question. He beat the field, whoever bothered to show up, and that is just about all that he can do. He didnt just beat them, but beat them both by eight shots.
You know, I really cant worry about that, Els said when asked the same question. Im just happy I played this well this week. I'm not trying to send a message to anybody. I'm just trying to prove to myself that I can play well, just keep improving on the things that I'm working on the mental side of the game, the physical side of the game. I'm just trying to improve.
Let's see where it takes me. I've just got to keep on working, keep my discipline. We'll talk later again. I'm not trying to send a message to anybody.
Rocco Mediate watched Els obliterate the field at Mercedes. He shuddered a little when he thought of it, the way that everything Els tried seemed to work. Tiger may not be that far out in front now, Rocco says.
Ernie doesn't miss anything, said Mediate. He's not missing a part of his game. What is he bad at? Nothing. I mean, he drives it 400, chips and putts as well as anybody on the planet, he's a good iron player. He has been for how many years?
Of course, how many years has Tiger been the absolute best? Ernie played nearly as well as humanly possible in the 2000 Mercedes, but lost to Tiger in a memorable duel when Woods sank a long putt in the playoff. Els was banished to second place ' or worse ' for the next couple of years.
I mean, Tiger went on a streak there which I don't know if we'll ever see again, Els said. You know, the way he played, the way he hit the ball, the way he putted, just everything he did was obviously unbelievable.
Unfortunately for me, I was just caught up in that kind of whirlwind of his. I kept on finishing second. Then the next year, I was trying to, Okay, now I'm going to do this now.' That wasn't quite me. I think that was the problem I was in.
This is a new time, a new Ernie, a new season. It may be the best hes ever played. But is it enough? Can he do it over the course of an entire year, when he will have to face that same nemesis ' Tiger ' 10 times or so?
Dont ask Els. He isnt the kind to get into head-to-head comparisons. He doesnt put the same pressure on himself as, say, Phil Mickelson. And dont ask his him, for goodness sakes, why he is hitting every single shot, making every putt, at the moment.
I cant tell you ' I cant answer that question, he said.
But Ive got my name on my bag.
Meaning that he, like about 500 other fellows, is a professional golfer. He just happens to be playing the best of any of the 500 at the moment.
Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol
Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.
Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET
Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.
“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.
Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros
Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.
She wondered if there would be resentment.
She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”
PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.
Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.
She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.
Fans have been stopping her for autographs.
“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.
He waved Lincicome over.
“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”
Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.
“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.
Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.
Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.
“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.
Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.
Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.
Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.
What are Lincicome’s expectations?
She would love to make the cut, but . . .
“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.
“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”
Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.
Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.
As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.
“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”
Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.
The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.
“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.
She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.
It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.
"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”
Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”