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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Levy wins Trophee Hassan for fifth European Tour title

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 6:32 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Alexander Levy finished with a 2-under 70 Sunday to win the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco by a shot from overnight leader Alvaro Quiros.

One off the lead overnight, Levy made two of his four birdies in his first five holes to hit the front and stayed ahead for the rest of the final day at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

It was the 27-year-old Frenchman's fifth European Tour victory and he will take winning form to Beijing next week when he defends his China Open title.

Levy ended 8-under 280 overall, one ahead of Spain's Quiros, who closed with a second straight 72.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

With his chasers pushing hard, Levy kept his cool after dropping a shot on No. 16. He birdied the short, par-3 No. 17 and made par at the last.

Quiros birdied his last two holes to make sure of second place outright. He needed an eagle on No. 18 to force a playoff.

A group of four players finished in a tie for third, including Italy's Andrea Pavan, who finished with a brilliant 6-under 66. Swedish pair Joakim Lagergren (70) and Alexander Bjork (70) and Finland's Mikko Ilonen (72) also shared third.

Levy had three other top 10 finishes in his five previous events this season and moved up to ninth on the European Tour's Race to Dubai points list.

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(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

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Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

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Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."