Ultimately Charl Schwartzel helped pave the way for an Ernie Els (68-66-70-66-270) victory Sunday at Doral but that does not mean the win was not a hard fought one. Before he even arrived at the CA Championship and worked his way into a head to head duel with fellow South African, he had a lot to overcome.
Winning just once in the last five years, there have been a lot of distractions that have justifiably kept Els from paying full attention to his golf game. Family matters such as his son Ben’s Autism and personal health issues (knee) tend to put golf on the backburner, especially for somebody who had already accomplished so much in his career.
Ernie himself says he did not have a real focus in his golf game. “Well, you know, I think — let me answer this one correctly. I don’t think the motivation was lacking. I just think that I went about it the wrong way, you know, I was almost chasing my own tail a little bit. You know, I was not looking after the smaller things. Meaning that just my normal mechanics in the game, the basics; I wasn’t looking after that.”
That all changed this week when Els say he says he got the right mental focus. “I’ve had a tough run. It’s just great,” he said immediately after the winning putt was holed. “I thought my game was in good shape, I just wanted to prove it for once.”
The result was a brilliant performance on the WGC-CA Championship where it seemed it was not the 40 year-old distracted Ernie Els that showed up to play but the highly motivated and confident 22 year old version we were introduced to at the Open Championship back in 1992.
For most of the final round Els fought back and forth and with Schwartzel, not only his countryman but also his house guest the last couple weeks. The fate of the tournament was up in the air until the 14th hole on Sunday when Els made a long putt to save his par after spending the balance of the 460-yard hole in the trees. That conserved his lead of a single stroke.
That lead would grow and Schwartzel hopes of a PGA Tour to add to his five European Tour titles would dash on the very next hole. On a relatively innocuous par three both players struck their tee shots into bunkers. Subsequently Schwartzel would blast his sand shot into the hazard Els occupied on the other side of the green, eventually making a bogey while Els got up and down for his par.
When Schwartzel missed his makeable birdie putt on #16 that would have got him back to one stroke down to Els the final tournament result was all but sealed.
Els had a comfortable walk down the 18th hole, on his way to his 17th PGA Tour victory, one embraced heartily by the crowd on hand.
“…this means so much,” Els said afterwards in the media room. “I didn’t think it was ever going to happen again, you know, but to come out here, and I mean, I’ve always loved playing here in Miami at Doral.”
With his win Els moves back into the top 10 in the Official World Rankings and 3rd in the FedEx Cup standings.
Will this win put the thought of finally winning at Augusta in Els’ mind? We hope so and I am sure he would love to add to his major win total but like the 40 experienced player he is, he has it all in perspective.
“Yeah, but, you know, two years ago when I won, I got all carried away and thought, you know, I was going to win Augusta. This time I just want to take this in. It’s great. But next week I’m going to work hard again. I’ve got to really get these things that I’m working on, get it really even drilled out a bit more and really be comfortable with it and get my ball flight perfect for Augusta.
I’ve got a couple more tournaments to play before that, so I would like to play well and then when Augusta comes around, it comes around. It’s just another tournament.”
At least that is what he says now. We’ll see how that changes when he arrives in Georgia.
This report provided to GolfWRX.com by Flagstick Golf Magazine (www.flagstick.com)