Els Out to Early Lead at Dubai

By Sports NetworkMarch 3, 2005, 5:00 pm
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Ernie Els birdied his final two holes Thursday en route to a 6-under-par 66, which gave him the lead after one round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Englishman David Howell and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez each carded rounds of 5-under-par 67 to share second place. Sam Osborne and Jarrod Lyle were one stroke further back at minus-4.
Els began his day on the front nine of the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club. After a pair of pars, the South African birdied the par-5 third to get into red figures.
The world's No. 3 player poured in a birdie putt at the eighth and made it two straight as he birdied No. 9 to make the turn at minus-3.
Els' back nine was very similar. He birdied the par-5 13th to get within one stroke of the lead. Els, who won this event in 1994 and 2002, rolled in a birdie try at the 17th to grab a share of the lead. He grabbed the outright lead with a birdie at the last.
'I had a nice time out there,' said Els, the only two-time winner of this event. 'I found my feet on the back nine and was very aggressive. I was hitting driver on just about every hole and although I didn't hit many fairways, it felt solid. All in all it was a good day's work and I'm pleased with 66. That was a good score today.'
Howell, who won the title in 1999, got off to a quick start with birdies at the second and fifth. However, he faltered to a bogey at the par-4 eighth. The Englishman bounced back with an eagle at the par-5 10th.
The 29-year-old stumbled to another bogey at the 11th to drop back to minus-2. Howell converted consecutive birdie putts from the 13th and moved to 5 under with a birdie at 16. He closed with two pars to share second place.
'I've been playing dreadfully,' said Howell, who has played in the United States the last few weeks. 'My game deteriorated like the weather over the three weeks out there, but the greens are great here and everything is nice, familiar territory. I went back to a few old drills and all in all played quite nicely.'
Jimenez, who is coming off a second-round loss to Chad Campbell at the WGC- Accenture Match Play championship, got off to a slow start with just one birdie over his opening nine holes.
The Spaniard caught fire around the turn though. Jimenez drained a birdie try at the 10th and made it two in a row as his birdie putt at 11 found the bottom of the cup.
Jimenez moved to minus-4 with a birdie at the 13th. He got to 5 under with a birdie at the par-4 16th before closing with a pair of pars.
Thomas Bjorn, the 2001 winner here, posted a 3-under-par 69. He was joined in a tie for sixth place by Robert Karlsson, James Kingston, Andrew Marshall, Charl Schwartzel, Henrik Stenson, Nick Dougherty, Peter Fowler, Pierre Fulke and Peter Hedblom.
Mark O'Meara, the defending champion, got off to a rough start as he carded a 1-over-par 73. He posted two birdies and three bogeys and stands in a tie for 76th.
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    Bjorn '85 percent' done with Ryder Cup pairings

    By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 11:45 am

    SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Practice-round groups at the Ryder Cup typically give fans a sense of what to expect when the Day 1 pairings are announced on Thursday afternoon.

    Though European captain Thomas Bjorn said that “not too much” should be gleaned from his groupings during the first official practice round on Tuesday, he also doesn’t want to waste valuable time as players get adjusted to Le Golf National and each other.

    Here were the three practice groups for the Europeans:

    • Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose
    • Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey and Thorbjorn Olesen
    • Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter and Tyrrell Hatton

    “You get some of the new guys out with somebody with a bit of experience so they can talk the way around," Bjorn said, "but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are pairing up together."

    It's worth noting U.S. captain Jim Furyk made similar remarks, that each of his three groups had at least one player who had seen Le Golf National previously.

    “I don’t feel like I’ve given away anything in what’s happening on the golf course today,” Bjorn said.  

    Still, Bjorn said that he’s “80 or 85 percent” certain of the pairings he’d like to use this week.

    “I’m pretty set in my mind,” he said.

    Asked where he was in his own process, Furyk joked “86 percent” before saying that he has a “really good idea” of his plan for Day 1 fourballs and foursomes.

    “I think coming in here we both were going to have a plan of exactly what we wanted to try to do,” Furyk said. “There’s always going to be a reaction to what you’re seeing on the golf course, what you’re feeling, options to branch off of, but I’ve got a really good idea of what I’d like to do for Day 1.”

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    Six players named in the race for Tour Player of the Year

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 11:26 am

    The PGA Tour announced six nominees for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award on Tuesday; although, to many, it won’t be a competition.

    Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas have been nominated for the Jack Nicklaus Award.

    DeChambeau won three times this season, including the first two playoff events; Johnson was also a three-time winner and had 12 top-10 finishes; Molinari had two victories, including The Open; Rose won the FedExCup, and Thomas had three victories. But if player reaction last week at the Tour Championship was any indication, they are all vying for second place behind Koepka.

    Although Koepka only had two victories they were both majors, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, after missing a good portion of the season with an injury.

    The Tour also released the five nominees for the Rookie of the Year Award, although that race appears to be a foregone conclusion as well. Aaron Wise was the only member of the rookie class to advance to the Tour Championship and also won the AT&T Byron Nelson.

    Voting for both awards ends on Oct. 1.

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    Promise kept as Poulter - and his fire - return to Ryder Cup

    By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 11:14 am

    SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – In December 2016, in one of his lowest moments as a pro, Ian Poulter sat on stage at a PGA of America dinner and fielded questions from the audience.

    One of the queries was this: What’s left for you in golf?

    “I feel I’ve got more wins in me,” he replied that day. “And I’m going to make the team in Paris.”

    That much appeared in doubt. 

    Earlier that year, Poulter underwent foot surgery and missed the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Relegated to a vice-captain role, he could only watch as the Europeans got dismantled and saw their three-match winning streak come to an end.

    Poulter’s own game suffered, too. Before the injury he’d already slipped outside the top 75 in the world – his lowest position since 2003 – and his freefall continued into early 2017, when he plummeted all the way to No. 207.

    Then came a surprise runner-up finish at The Players that helped him secure his PGA Tour card for the next season, and then, at age 42, he enjoyed one of his best years. In April he won the Houston Open for his third PGA Tour title (and first since 2012) and then posted solid finishes at The Players, U.S. Open, Canadian Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Though he lacked the necessary points to qualify for the European team automatically, he was as much a lock for a captain’s pick as a healthy Tiger Woods on the U.S. side.

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    “There’s a little voice in the back of your head that says: ‘You might not get back to as good as you once were,’” he said. “But that’s been a goal for the last 20 months. It’s been something that has kept me going from a motivational standpoint.

    “It was difficult being a vice captain last time, knowing how much I’ve helped the team in the past, and I wanted to help the team in any way I could. But I felt like this time around, I really wanted to make the team. I’m pretty proud.”

    Poulter and Sergio Garcia are the heartbeats of the European side, veterans have who seen everything in the Ryder Cup, who have plenty of pull in the team room, who know how to handle the most stressful situations.

    With a 12-4-2 record, no European Ryder Cupper has a better win-loss mark than Poulter. At Medinah, he seemed to single-handedly bring the visitors back from the dead, teaming with Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy to win three matches, then capturing a point in singles, as well, as the Europeans matched the largest final-day comeback in tournament history.

    “He’s a legend,” said European teammate Tyrrell Hatton.

    Poll any U.S. team member, and Poulter is still the guy they most likely want to beat – not necessarily because he’s the best player on the European side, but because his success seems to fuel his teammates.

    “I take it as a huge compliment,” Poulter said. “It’s a daunting position to be in to know that everyone really wants to take you down, but quite frankly, I want to take them down just as much.”

    Poulter was the first European player out on the range on Monday – he didn’t qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship – and captain Thomas Bjorn joked that Poulter “wanted to go midweek last week, if he could.”

    “He looks forward to this,” Bjorn said. “We all know Ian’s history and feelings about the Ryder Cup. He wanted to get out there. He’s that type of guy. He’s certainly ready to go.”

    Some brave reporter asked Poulter whether he’s preparing for this to be his final home Ryder Cup, whether he’s trying to “drink it all in.”

    It was a reasonable question – he will be 46 during the 2022 matches in Italy – but Poulter stared a hole through him.

    “It won’t be,” he said flatly.

    Then he softened.

    “I’d like to think I’ve got more in me, I’ll say that,” he said. “I think how I’ve played this year is hopefully the start of me kicking forward again to play in some more. The reason I answered it that way is I don’t want to think this is my last hurrah.”

    But if it is, well, you can guarantee that Europe’s fieriest player will try and go out in a blaze of glory.

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    Molinari on taking on Woods at Ryder Cup, Open

    By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 9:11 am

    SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Francesco Molinari might be a useful resource for the European Ryder Cup team.

    He’s already take on Tiger Woods, head to head, at a Ryder Cup and a major.

    Molinari was in the anchor match at the 2012 Ryder Cup when Woods conceded on the final hole to halve the match and give the Europeans an outright victory in the incredible comeback at Medinah. Molinari said the last hole was a “blur,” and it remains the last Ryder Cup that both Molinari and Woods played.

    “I’ve improved a lot as a player since 2012,” said Molinari, who lost his previous singles match against Woods in 2010, 4 and 3, “and I hope to show that on the course this week.”

    The proof is the claret jug that he now keeps at home.

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    To win his first major he needed to not only endure the circus that a Woods group brings, but he needed to outlast the 14-time major champion and a host of other worthy contenders to prevail at Carnoustie.

    Reflecting on that momentous day Tuesday, Molinari said he initially was dreading the final-round date with Woods.

    “If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t exactly hoping to be paired with Tiger, not because I don’t like to play with him, but because, obviously, the hype and with him being in contention in a major, it’s going to be noisy and it’s going to be a lot of people," he said. 

    “So the most challenging part was probably that moment when the draw came out, but then I quickly managed to think, You know, whatever. I don’t really care. I’m here to do a job, and they can’t really influence how I do my job.”  

    To thrive in that situation gave Molinari a lot of confidence – especially heading into a pressure-cooker like the Ryder Cup.

    Asked whether it’s more pressure trying to win a major or a Ryder Cup – since he’s now done both – Molinari said: “You won’t believe me, but it’s nowhere near. Carnoustie was nowhere near Medinah or in any matching ways. It’s hard to believe, but it’s probably because you play for a team; you play for a continent in our case, and you know about the tradition and what players have done in the past.”