Els sends out US Open signal at Memorial
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2004 the Memorial Tournament | Wrap | 07 Jun 2004
Ernie Els four shot win at the Memorial today, is a timely reminder, just in case anyone needed it, that next week’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills is shaping up as the event that may well establish the number one golfer in the world, at least morally.
Els’ win has taken him to number three on the USPGA Tour money list and, combined with his number one standing on the European Tour’s Volvo Order of Merit, he is arguably the number one player in the world anyway, if not on paper, then at least on grass.
Els was brilliant today and this week. An early bogey at the fourth did not faze him in the least, although to be fair putting the words “faze” and “Els” in close proximity is bordering on an oxymoron. The 34-year-old South African started round four with a two shot lead over Couples, K.J. Choi, and Justin Rose and by the fourth, after two early birdies by Couples and a bogey by himself, Els had fallen one behind. The games’ two most laid back characters then proceeded to gap their opposition, more so Els who birdied three of the next four holes and reached the turn with a two shot lead over Couples, Woods, who had turned in 33 to also be at 12 under and the increasingly impressive Rose.
Els rifled a superb short iron into the 11th for another birdie and then made what was likely the single most important save of the day, perhaps even the week, when he made a spectacular up and down from behind and left of the green at the dangerous par three 12th. He holed a sharply breaking left to right eight footer to follow on top of the birdie that Couples had just made and so the door that had just opened for Couples, had just as quickly closed. At the next, Els holed from thirty feet for another birdie and barring accidents, the gate was closed. Els failed to birdie the par five 15th but birdied the 17th and 18th to finish four shots ahead of Couples and six ahead of third placed Woods.
Couples recorded his second top ten in the US in his last three starts, his other coming at the Masters when 6th. He seems to be enjoying himself and although the US Open has not been all that kind to him he is finding form at the right time.
Woods produced one of the most sensational pars and one that, should he have gone of to win, would have been recorded as one of the great par saves in the history of the game. Finding the water from the tee at the par four 14th, Woods was forced to take a penalty drop and then flew the green from a flying lie with his third. From behind and left of the green and with water only twenty feet behind the flag Woods produced a lob shot that pitched on the edge of the green and ran across to find the bottom of the hole. That kept him within three and with the reachable par five 15th still to come, there was still hope, albeit remote, that he could yet figure in the finish. There would be no more birdies for Tiger but it was great to see the fist pumping adrenalin flowing Woods as he sniffed a chance.
The down side however of Woods’ on course personality, is the dummy spitting and club throwing antics that appear Woods’ wont when things don’t go his way. For a man that is such a great role model in so many ways and carries the mantle of the world’s number one with such class and dignity, it is one area that needs some work. Will someone please tell him that others also get bad breaks.
Els now heads to Westchester before arriving at Shinnecock Hills where he must now be considered the equal, in terms of favouritism, of Tiger Woods for the second major of the year. A two time winner and on four other occasions a top ten placegetter at the US Open, Els looks a good chance now to exorcise the demons of his Augusta disappointment this year.
Justin Rose’s growing maturity and development as a player must surely result in a USPGA Tour win before too long. Six years ago Rose turned professional, perhaps too early, but he is now one of the best of the younger players in the world. He would likely rank second, and perhaps only just, to Adam Scott as the best of the under twenty five brigade. He is going through the learning curve that so many greats do of putting yourself in contention every week knowing that if you do, the door will finally open.
K.J. Choi again showed what a big event player he is with his fifth placing here and with him already showing at the Masters, where he finished third, that the big time is not such an issue, a good finish at Shinnecock Hills is not such a far off dream.
The leading Australians were Peter Lonard and Stephen Leaney who both shared 11th. For Leaney, his cheque for $US111,000 takes him to $US950,000 in his rookie season on the USPGA Tour. For Lonard, after a shaky start to the year brought about by rib injury, he is slowly regaining the form that saw him finish 2003 so strongly. Geoff Ogilvy was 24th, Robert Allenby 33rd after a last round 66, Mark Hensby 46th, Craig Parry 66th and Aaron Baddeley 69th.
For many here, this coming week will start at the USPGA Tour qualifying tomorrow where 189 players at the Columbus venue will compete over thirty six holes for thirty three places at the US Open.