More Than Just Winning for Els

By John HawkinsMarch 17, 2010, 1:29 am
It was the most significant round of golf played on the PGA Tour this year – a bogey-free 66 on a breezy Sunday afternoon at a premium-field event, which turned a tight ballgame into a runaway victory. More a test of inner-strength than a work of art, what made the performance so meaningful is that Ernie Els strode to Doral’s first tee with a share of the 54-hole lead and a lot more on the line than anyone behind him.
Ernie and Ben Els
Ernie Els and son Ben at Monday's autism charity event. (Getty Images)
More to gain, more to lose, definitely more to prove. Although Els’ career had been in steady decline since the fall of 2004, few people would dare to trace his freefall to the condition of his son, Ben, who was diagnosed with autism in 2007. Granted, Els underwent major knee surgery in the summer of  ’05, then made a hasty return to competitive golf that December, so more than a year passed between his comeback and an announcement regarding his son’s impairment.

Along the way, there were a couple of different management agencies, a change in equipment companies and several caddies, all while Els tried desperately to regain the form that made him one of the world’s top players for a decade. For a considerable portion of 2006, the Big Easy was actually taking advice from two sports psychologists. “I was almost chasing my own tail a little bit,” he acknowledged last Sunday. “I went about it the wrong way, wasn’t looking after the little things.”

His off-course business portfolio got thicker, but it wasn’t until Els was beaten by Phil Mickelson at the 2004 Masters, then lost a playoff to Todd Hamilton at the British Open three months later, that the comparisons became inevitable. The guy was turning into Greg Norman, consumed by competitive heartbreak, then chasing away the pain with a 10-gallon jug of distractions. Ben’s diagnosis shattered that broken heart into a million pieces, but both Ernie and his wife, Liezl, have recently said that their son’s autism has redefined their purpose in life.

The Els for Autism Foundation eventually will serve as 30,000 square feet of proof, the long-term plan calling for a south Florida facility capable of accommodating 300 children, but until last Sunday, there wasn’t substantial evidence that Els would ever be successful when it came to rebuilding his career. Having grown up with a severely retarded brother, I experienced the difficulties and emotional burden that can shape the existence of an entire family.

Sorrow. Guilt. Anger. I still tell anybody who will listen that my brother’s handicap impacted my own childhood as much as losing my father at the age of 9. The world seems much more understanding now, or maybe I’ve just grown up a little bit, but I cannot imagine a similar misfortune not affecting a world-class golfer, a three-time major champion already plagued by a certain amount of scar tissue accrued inside the ropes.

If you were born with more than an ounce of compassion, it changes you. Does that mean it alters the numbers on your scorecard? Only Els can really answer that, and though we haven’t spoken often in recent years, I got to know him well enough to say he’s far too kind and way too proud to blame the last five years of his golf life on the mental and domestic implications of his son’s condition. After winning last Sunday night, he admitted, “I didn’t think it was ever going to happen again.” They are words spoken by a man who has been forced to see the bigger picture, and at some point, came to terms with the hand fate has dealt him.

It is definitely not something Els would have said in 2004. There is a tendency among many of us to size up this type of victory by wondering whether it will improve the player’s chances of winning an upcoming major. The Masters is a tournament Els has loved forever and lost more than once, a title one might have suspected he’d win two or three times before all was said and done. His play at Augusta National in recent years has been awful, his three consecutive missed cuts reflective of a man trying too hard and knocking himself out of the hunt before the hunt had even started.

The Els I saw down the stretch Sunday afternoon looked more composed than the guy I saw in the prime of his career, when the Big Easy used to huff and puff his way through the pressure and visibly sigh after crucial moments. He looked emotionally unencumbered at Doral, and if he really thought he might not ever win again, he has no reason to feel that way now. With Tiger Woods either on the shelf or just coming off it, with Mickelson struggling to get all parts of his game working at the same time, Els has suddenly become both a thinking man’s favorite and a feelgood favorite, too.

“When I won [the Honda Classic] two years ago, I got all carried away with it and thought I was going to win at Augusta,” Els said last Sunday evening. “This time, I just want to take it all in.” Which isn’t to say he can’t get something out of it, too.
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Garcia among bubble boys keeping playoff hopes alive

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 12:34 am

Sergio Garcia gave himself a chance to keep his perfect FedExCup Playoffs record going with his rally Friday at the Wyndham Championship.

D.A. Points moved into position to make a historic leap into the postseason.

And Johnson Wagner dunked his last shot of the day from long range to keep his hopes of making the playoffs alive.

But the day didn’t end nearly as well for Tyrone Van Aswegen’s FedExCup hopes.

Van Aswegen didn’t do himself any favors trying to hold on to the 125th spot on the FedExCup points list. He missed the cut by a shot.

Only the top 125 advance to The Northern Trust and next week’s start to the playoffs.

Van Aswegen wasn’t alone among “bubble boys” missing the cut. No. 122 Jhonattan Vegas, No. 123 Seamus Power, No. 124 Martin Piller, No. 126 Chad Campbell and No. 127 Robert Garrigus all failed to make the weekend.

Garcia is among 13 players who have advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs every year since they began in 2007, but his run was in jeopardy of ending starting the week. He’s 131st on the FedExCup points list

With a 65 Friday following his opening round 66, Garcia is in more than a great position to advance. He’s in position to win the Wyndham. He is tied for fourth, five shots off the lead. The day ended with Garcia projected to move up to 118th on the FedExCup points list.

Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list

“I'm just going to try to keep building on the things that I did well these first two days,” Garcia said. “Whatever happens, happens. Like I said at the beginning of the week, if I have a great weekend, then it will be great. If I don't have a great weekend, it will still be great because

I'll get to rest.”

Points started the week 214th on the FedExCup points list. With back-to-back 64s, he trails only Brandt Snedeker going into the weekend. He’s projected to move to 81st in points. Nobody has ever started the Wyndham Championship that far back in points and qualified for the playoffs. Davis Love III was 186th when he won and advanced in 2015.

Wagner, 136th on the FedExCup points list, went to spectacular lengths Friday to keep his playoff hopes alive. He was outside the cut line until holing his 153-yard approach at the last.

Bill Haas, who is among those 13 players to have qualified for the playoffs every year, started the week 150th in points. He can keep his perfect playoff record going with a big weekend. He shot 68 Friday to make the cut. He’s tied for 52nd in the tournament.

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Points two back after missing 16 of 17 cuts

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 11:54 pm

What’s the better story come Sunday?

Brandt Snedeker turning his 59 in the opening round into a victory at the Wyndham Championship?

Or D.A. Points winning after missing 16 cuts in his last 17 starts?

They’re both scripts in the works at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.

Points, who has been struggling this season with a herniated disc that causes numbness in his fingers, has broken through his season-long funk to shoot back-to-back 64s. He starts the weekend in second place, two shots behind Snedeker.

Full-field scores from Wyndham Championship

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“It's been difficult,” Points said of his slump. “It's been hard on my family. I was in this position a couple years ago, and I clawed my way back and won in Puerto Rico.

“I had that big downturn, and I clawed my way out of it just to find myself way back down in another deep hole again.”

Points, 41, is a three-time PGA Tour winner. He won his first title playing alongside Bill Murray at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2011 and two years later won the Shell Houston Open. He slipped into a three-year funk after that, before rebuilding his game and winning the Puerto Rico Open last year.

“Hopefully, this is my way of starting to claw back out,” Points said.

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New 'Mr. 59' Snedeker needs Day 2 rally to keep Wyndham lead

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

Brandt Snedeker struggled coming off the emotional high that comes with shooting 59, but it didn’t stop him from rallying Friday to try to turn his historic round into a victory at the Wyndham Championship.

After a sluggish start to the second round, Snedeker caught fire on the back nine at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., to take the lead going into the weekend.

With a 3-under 67, Snedeker moved to 14 under overall, two shots ahead of D.A. Points (64).

“I knew it was going to be tough” Snedeker said. “It wasn't going to be the same way it was yesterday. Kind of battling the emotion of everybody pulling hard for you, wanting to see you do it again. So the front nine was disappointing.”

A day after becoming the ninth player in PGA Tour history to post a sub-60 tournament round, Snedeker opened with three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine. He said it was a struggle to begin anew.

Full-field scores from Wyndham Championship

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“You hear people telling you every two seconds, `Mr. 59,’ or saying how cool it was to watch it,” Snedeker said. “Phone's still blowing up this morning, guys in the locker room are still talking to me about it. So, yes, totally on your mind. You can't ignore it. You can't try to forget about it. Hardest thing is trying to get back into a rhythm.”

Snedeker did with an eagle and two birdies on the back nine. Rolling in a 30-foot eagle putt at the 15th gave him back the lead he lost earlier in the round.

“To see that go in was huge,” Snedeker said.

Not every player to break 60 on the PGA Tour has gone on to win. In fact, Snedeker is looking to become just the fifth player to do so.

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Garwood (64) leads Dick's Sporting Goods Open

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 9:53 pm

ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Doug Garwood birdied the final three holes for an 8-under 64 and the first-round lead Friday in the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.

The 55-year-old Garwood had nine birdies and a bogey, playing his final nine holes - the front nine at En-Joie Golf Club - in 6-under 31.

''Drove it well, hit the irons well, pitched well, putted well, thought well,'' Garwood said. ''I got to a point I was just making birdies and I kind of lost track of how it was going,'' Garwood said. ''That's always a good thing.''

He won the 2016 SAS Championship for his lone PGA Tour Champions title.

Full-field scores from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open

"I haven't been playing great this year, but I've been working hard on my game and things I've been working on are paying off,'' Garwood said. ''My golf, I take it a shot at a time, don't think about too far in advance because you really can't control, you know, the 13th hole tomorrow. It's just about the tee shot on No. 1.''

Michael Bradley and Marco Dawson shot 65, Woody Austin and Clark Dennis followed at 66, and Bob Estes and Tom Gillis were at 67.

''It was a good day,'' Bradley said. ''I've traditionally not driven the ball well here and you've got to drive the ball good here to shoot a good score. I drove the ball well and made a few putts, so that was that.''

Kenny Perry, the 3M Championship winner two weeks ago in Minnesota, had a 68. Bernard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez each shot 70. Langer won the 2014 tournament. Jimenez is coming off a victory at St. Andrews in the British Senior Open.

Defending champion Scott McCarron had a 72. Kevin Sutherland also had a 72. He shot the only 59 in PGA Tour Champions history in the 2014 event. John Daly, the winner of the PGA Tour's 1992 B.C. Open at En-Joie, opened with a 73.