Els Searching for Major Turnaround

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 11, 2005, 4:00 pm
Ernie Els sat before the media in January and was posed the same question most every big name player receives at the season-opening Mercedes Championships:
Whats the minimum you could do this year to make it a successful year in your own mind?
Ernie Els
Ernie Els hopes to put behind him his recent major disappointments at St. Andrews.
Part of Els response: I would love to at least win a major this year. It sounds very cocky but that's always my mindset.
Els is 0-for-2 in that department thus far in 2005. Technically, that puts him in a similar position to that of a year ago as he prepares for the Open Championship. But unlike last year, when he had a chance to win each of the first two majors ' and all four, for that matter, he has yet to contend in any this year.
Els tied for 47th at Augusta and then tied for 15th at Pinehurst; finishing 22 and nine strokes, respectively, behind the winners. He has yet to break par in any of his eight major rounds in 05.
Hes winless in the majors this season and hes winless on the PGA Tour. Needless to say, Els is not overly pleased with his results, despite the fact that he has three wins on the European Tour.
Theres still time, he said about turning his season into what he deems a successful campaign.
Time, however, is slipping. And there is more sand in the bottom of the hourglass than in the top.
For a man of Els professional stature, success is measured in victories ' particularly in the majors. Els has three major triumphs, but none since the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield.
Last year was particularly cruel, as he finished runner-up to Mickelson by a stroke at the Masters; shot 80 from the final group, in the final round of the U.S. Open to tie for ninth; lost to Todd Hamilton in a playoff at the Open Championship; and bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss out on a playoff at the PGA Championship.
As much as those still hurt and as frustrated as he might be, Els is well aware that one good week, four great rounds can alter his disposition.
And with his track record in the Open, combined with his affection for the Old Course at St. Andrews, Els is among the top contenders to again claim the claret jug.
St. Andrews is almost like a home course for me. I've played it every year since 1992. So I know it as good as anybody, said Els.
But he is not the favorite.
Five for the Title:
Tiger Woods
Each of the last two Open Championships has produced a shocking winner. And eight of the last 10 Open winners have been American. So you may want to pick someone like Ted Purdy as your favorite. But well stick with Tiger. While Americans have had recent success at St. Andrews, having won four of the last six Opens staged there, the dark horse has rarely finished first. Nine of the last 11 winners at St. Andrews already had a major victory to their credit. The venerable venue has hosted 26 Opens and has produced champions like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo. And, of course, that Woods fellow.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is looking to complete the career Grand Slam for the second time.
Tiger won the most recent Old Course Open in 2000, establishing a major record winning score of 19 under. He played in the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland last Monday and Tuesday, and has been spending a little time fishing with pals on that side of the Atlantic and a lot of time gearing up his game. Having won the Masters and finished runner-up at the U.S. Open, he cant win the single season Grand Slam. But a win this week and he would join Nicklaus as the only men to win every major at least twice.
Ernie Els
Not since Greg Norman has there been a player more star-crossed in the majors than Els. He desperately wants to win the career Grand Slam, but he certainly wouldnt mind adding a second British Open title to go along with his two U.S. Open trophies. Els is a little weary at the moment, due to his extensive travels, which include an unexpected return to South Africa two weeks ago for the death of his grandfather. But, despite an 11th-place showing at the Barclays Scottish Open, he enters this championship optimistic. In addition to his infatuation for St. Andrews, he is also quite fond of his new Titleist driver, which he put in play last week.
Padraig Harrington
*Editor's note: Harrington pulled out on Tuesday due to the death of his father.
Harrington may well be playing the best golf of anyone leading into the seasons third major. Three weeks ago, he drained a 65-foot eagle putt to win the Barclays Classic, his second PGA Tour title of the year. He then won, by six strokes, last weeks J.P. McManus Pro-Am, a two-day event that featured the likes of Woods, Els, U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, Davis Love III, and just about every notable European player. He has a pair of top-5 finishes in the Open Championship, and tied for 20th in 2000.
Vijay Singh
Singh can claim the third leg of the career Grand Slam with a win this week. He has three PGA Tour victories this season, but none in his last six starts. That might not seem like a long stretch, but Singh has come to spoil us over the last three years. Singh has had moderate success in this event. He has missed only two cuts in 16 career starts, but also has only two top-10s. One of those top-10s, however, came here in 1995. He tied for second in 2003, behind champion Ben Curtis.
Phil Mickelson
There was a time ' not too long ago ' that Mickelson would never have been considered among the favorites to win this particular major. But times have changed. And so, too, has Mickelsons major preparation. After failing to crack the top-10 in his first 11 Open appearances, he finished solo third a year ago at Royal Troon. His previous best finish was a tie for 11th, which happened to come at St. Andrews in 2000. He continued his major routine, playing the Old Course last Monday and Tuesday prior to competing in the Scottish Open.
Playing Out the Front Nine
Four more to keep an eye on
*Michael Campbell, who will be playing his first official event since winning the U.S. Open. Campbell tied Els and Woods for sixth place at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am. He first made a name for himself at this event and at this venue in 95, when he held the 54-hole lead, but then shot 76 on Sunday to miss out on the John Daly-Costantino Rocca playoff by a stroke.
*Retief Goosen, who is looking to bounce back from a woeful closing performance at Pinehurst. In search of his second straight U.S. Open title, Goosen shot 81 in the final round to blow a three-shot lead and finish tied for 11th. He has three consecutive top-10 finishes in this event.
*Davis Love III, who has said the Open Championship is the one major that he has always wanted to win. Love hasnt won an event since 2003, but he seems to be rounding into form. He played better than anyone at Pinehurst over the last three rounds. He just needs to find a way to get off to a good start at St. Andrews. He has a pair of top-5s in his last two Open starts.
*Jack Nicklaus, who will be making his final appearance in this championship. Nicklaus has competed in 37 Opens. He won three times, including twice at St. Andrews (1970, 78). Most amazingly, he never finished worse than tied for sixth from 1966-80.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - British Open
  • Getty Images

    Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

    By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

    ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

    Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

    Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

    For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

    ''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

    Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

    Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

    Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

    Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

    Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

    Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

    After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

    Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

    ''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

    Getty Images

    Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

    Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

    “Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

    Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

    “The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

    Getty Images

    10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

    Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

    Was it a birdie, or a par?

    According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

    According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

    Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

    “The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

    While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

    His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

    “I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

    Getty Images

    Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

    By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

    The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

    The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

    Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

    The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

    While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

    Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

    “It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

    Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

    But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

    “Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

    After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

    The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

    But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

    Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

    It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

    “All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”