Els wins again as British Open defense nears

By Jason SobelJune 24, 2013, 12:50 pm

I spent the better part of an afternoon at a loss to once again describe Ernie Els. His carefree brilliance, the ease at which he goes about his business, his longevity in remaining among the world’s best for so many years. Nothing new here, really.

I mean, golf writers have been spending the last two decades waxing poetic about the Big Easy’s admirable traits, so on the heels of his latest victory at the BMW International Open, what sweeping generalizations can we make? That he has a pretty swing? That he’s capable of winning anywhere, anytime? Come on. We knew all this already. We’ve known it forever.

It wasn’t until the final line of “Thunder Road” bounced from speakers across the room – ”We’re pulling out of here to win…” – transferring from what had been barely noticeable background noise to an idea invading this blank slate, that it hit me.

Ernie Els is like the Bruce Springsteen of golf.

Think about it: Each guy has been cranking out successful work for longer than most of his peers. Each is beloved in his native land, but nearly equally adored halfway around the world. Each – and this is something very different than the last sentence – has few detractors, people who don’t care for him or what he does professionally.

And each is almost taken for granted in the way he continuously improves – or at least treads water, which in both cases means remaining near the top.

Photos: Els' career through the years

Els by the numbers

I’ll quit the analogy while I’m ahead – and no, I don’t know if this also means Vijay Singh is Mick Jagger (they both tend to strut and have a guitar-sized chip on their shoulders?) or Phil Mickelson is Jon Bon Jovi (you either love the guy or love to hate him?). But it should stand as a nice little coincidence that just as reports circulate that Springsteen is preparing to get back into the studio for a new album, Els is similarly preparing for an Open Championship that is earmarked with his storylines all over its surface.

There’s the fact that Els won at Muirfield the last time an Open was held there. Back in 2002, he outlasted three others in a playoff to claim his third career major championship title. At the time, he was 32, right in the prime of a burgeoning Hall of Fame career, and there was every reason to believe that his third major was a stepping stone to even more.

By the time he won last year’s Open, Els actually was a Hall of Fame member, which in itself suggests that he would be past that prime of a decade earlier. Maybe he was, but the back nine of Els’ career is apparently still better than the front side of so many others. He won at Royal Lytham when Adam Scott imploded in grand fashion; now he enters next month’s edition of the event as defending champion and one of the odds-on favorites to win it again.

That’s because at 43, he’s still capable of carefree brilliance, even if they now come in short, poignant bursts rather than prolonged bouts of consistency. Els’ victory on Sunday in Germany was the 68th professional win of his career. He’s won everywhere from Kapalua to Congressional, from Dubai to Durban, and yet each time he’s won in the last few years, there’s a little bit more of a celebration, just in case this time is the last time. Not that there’s any evidence to show it would be. In fact, quite the contrary – prior to winning this past week, he had finished in a share of fourth place at the U.S. Open, a final-round 1-under 69 leaving him just a few strokes shy of giving a serious run at a fifth career major.

It could happen at Muirfield, the biggest storyline in a tourney chock full of those surrounding him.

After being informed that he is now the oldest player to win the BMW, Els responded, “I'm really young, believe me. I'm a very young 43-year-old. There's no younger 43-year-old than me, I promise you.”

It’s difficult to think of Els as a young 43-year-old. He’s the Gary Player of this generation, logging more miles across more continents than any of his contemporaries. Big deal, you might say. Comfy private jets with their comfy beds and comfort food are hardly enough to weather a guy, you might contend.

Sure, he’s not exactly taking Greyhound buses and sleeping in a Motel 6 each week, but global travel of even the most lavish kind is enough to take a toll. This past week he went from Merion to Munich, enough to leave most people jetlagged and bleary-eyed, but just another cross-continent journey for a guy who’s been doing this for longer than he wasn’t.

“[You] get to my age, to get a win, it's a wonderful feeling,” he said afterward. “Hopefully it gives me the confidence that I needed. Two more majors left, I've played quite well the last two, but I need a bit of a spark in the next two. So hopefully this will help. It definitely will.”

For two decades, we’ve known all about Els’ pretty swing, globetrotting schedule and ability to win anywhere, anytime. What we’re learning now is that none of it is eroding now that he’s a self-proclaimed “young 43-year-old.” Based on his return to Muirfield and last year’s win, he was already going to be one of the main stories entering the year’s third major. Based on his recent play, he may be the main story once it’s over, too.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.