Big week ends with big win for Big Easy

By Rex HoggardMarch 15, 2010, 5:36 am

2010 WGC-CA ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – Selection Sunday at Doral Resort and Spa came down to only two choices, with Ernie Els taking low South African honors and Charl Schwartzel claiming the B Flight at the U.N. Open. Thanks for playing.

Not that it was easy. Never is for the big man despite one of the game’s coolest nicknames and syrupy swings. But this is a new Big Easy. Comfortable in his own skin and a reformed homebody after a lifetime of globetrotting. Confident in a short game that had been AWOL for too long and fixed on a singular purpose – winning.

“One of the things if you work as hard as he does you feel like you’re due and he has been due for a while,” said Els’ manager Chubby Chandler. “He’s strong and he really has the passion.”

For four wind-whipped days in south Florida Els was also as good as he’s been in some time, particularly on Sunday with Schwartzel nipping at him and a three-club wind changing directions like Camilo Villegas changes designer outfits.

Ernie Els
Ernie Els won for the 17th time on the PGA Tour. (Getty Images)
Els traded blows with Schwartzel, who he began the final turn tied for the lead after crashing at his idol’s house and picking his brain on the Bear’s Club practice tee the previous week.

And for 10 holes on Sunday the South African showdown was a standoff, with Els playing flawless golf and Schwartzel charging like someone who has spent a lifetime chasing major

championships. But as Doral’s winds continued to turn the affair took on a parable feel, with something to be said for the slow and steady.

“This took so much work to win,” said Els, who closed with a 66 for an 18-under 270 total and his first Tour title since the 2008 Honda Classic. “A lot of people have said that the older you get the tougher it becomes to win and that’s very true.”

Still, the 25-year-old Schwartzel left many wondering which South African would be a better bet to claim Grand Slam glory this year. Through 64 holes the two remained knotted at 16 under after the young man whose father once teamed with Els in a professional event birdied four of five holes around the turn.

The difference, however, is the one thing that has been missing from Els’ game for some time, a defiant short game that in Round 4 defied belief and deftly handled everything the Blue Monster could throw at that 6-foot-4 frame.

Although much was made of Butch Harmon’s hit-and-run lesson with Els earlier in the week at Doral, Chandler said his man’s resurgence was due in large part to an improved short game which is the byproduct of a softer Callaway golf ball and new 35-inch putter.

“I haven’t been making those kind of putts and you have to make putts like that to win golf tournaments at some point in a tournament,” said Els, who tied for first in total putts and putts made distance.

Specifically, Els scrambled like Dan Marino in his prime, with clutch par saves at Nos. 11, 13 and 14 where he missed the fairway, the green and holed a 20 footer for par to keep his advantage. Schwartzel didn’t.

A bogey at the 11th dropped Schwartzel one back and the tournament turned on the rarest of golf happenings, a sculled bunker shot from a fried-egg lie at the 15th for bogey. The young charge never recovered.

By the time the two reached the 18th hole on Sunday favorable winds and a four-shot cushion for Els made the feared closer something of a mini-Monster.

“He played flawless golf today,” said Schwartzel, who finished four shots back after signing for a final-round 70 for his second consecutive top 10 in a World Golf Championship. “Whenever anyone makes six birdies and no bogeys on a windy day like this you’re almost bound to win.”

It was also the second consecutive WGC overshadowed by Tiger Woods, although in the world No. 1’s defense the distraction had nothing to do with any orchestrated “press event” and everything to do with a return that seems imminent if not a tad cloudy.

Whether Woods rejoins the fold at the Tavistock Cup, Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Masters remains to be seen. What is certain is that players are tired of talking about it.

“We just want to move on,” Graeme McDowell said. “We just want him back and for things to be like they were.”

Fortunately for CA and the Tour a pair of South African bookends livened up the proceedings, to say nothing of Phil Mickelson’s game which appears to be firing at three-quarter time at the moment.

CA’s deal with the Tour expired on Sunday and rumors persists they plan to take their checkbook and go home, although Tour commissioner Tim Finchem did not seem overly concerned when asked about Doral’s future.

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We could play other places but we like playing here. It works for our TV packages and works for the Florida Swing,” Finchem said. “My feeling is it will stay here . . . as a World Golf Championship.”

As for Lefty, he limped to an 8-under finish and a tie for 14th on a game that’s not far off but far from ready for the prime time of Augusta National. It’s why Lefty added Bay Hill to his schedule and why he was headed home late Sunday in need of a Dave Stockton Sr. short-game refresher.

“I need to get in contention the next two weeks,” said Mickelson, who employed a familiar game plan at Doral, two drivers, with similar results to the last time he tried the experiment, too many missed fairways. “It’s not as bad as it feels but not quite where it needs to be.”

Neither Els nor Schwartzel, who plans to stay at the Big Easy’s south Florida abode again next week, had any such worries.

“Charl is the star of the future – but he’s got to beat me,” Els said on the eve of their duel. “I fed him well, I gave him good wine. He owes me. Big time.”

Now Els faces his ultimate nemesis, Augusta National and the Masters, where he has finished second, fifth, sixth . . . everywhere but first. In many ways Doral was Els’ Selection Sunday, and the Masters in four weeks will be his personal Big Dance.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.