PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Els looks to continue dominating play in Boca Raton
October 28, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- October 28, 2020
- Ernie Els leads the Charles Schwab Cup standings. (Tracy Wilcox/Getty Images)
If there is a singular driving force on PGA TOUR Champions in this pandemic-interrupted, lengthened, wraparound, rookie-dominated, strange trip of a season, it is World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els.
The four-time major winner already has two wins in his 11 starts and nine top-10 finishes. Since a T27 at the Ally Challenge (the first post-pandemic tournament)) in August, Els has seven consecutive top-10s, including his win at the SAS Championship, a solo third at the PURE Insurance Championhip, a T5 at the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship and matching T7s at the Charles Schwab Series events at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri.
The numbers are impressive. Els, 50, lead the Champions Tour in scoring (68.29), greens in regulation (77.61%) and eagles per hole (62.1). He’s second in putting average (1.737) and third in driving distance (295.4). Put it all together and you have the leader in the Charles Schwab Cup standings heading into this weekend’s TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida.
The South African legend is one of only three players to earn over a million dollars in 2020, and counterparts Bernhard Langer and Scott Parel each have played in two more events than Els.
“I'm a pure rookie, green as they come,” Els said the week of the SAS, where he posted his second victory. “I haven't seen most of the golf courses, which is kind of exciting because you've really got to kind of get a feel for what you need to do on certain golf courses and golf holes. …
“In many ways it's really exciting because when I play on the other tour, you know, it becomes very, I don't want to say boring, but you've seen golf courses so many times and there's nothing really exciting about it anymore.”
For Els, not only winning his rejuvenated his love of the game but being able to go out and score well.
“I mean, I feel -- they're playing golf courses here, we're playing this golf course off the tips, but it's not 7,500 yards. I don't know how long this course is, maybe 7,100 yards, so you can get to par 5s in two, par 4s aren't killing you too much. It's really -- if you're on your game, you can make a score, which is quite exciting.”
Apparently an excited Els is a dangerous one. His final-round scoring average over the past six events is 66.83. He should have been in a playoff at the PURE Insurance Championship, but he missed a 3-footer on the 54th hole.
After that, he got a putting lesson from Mark O’Meara, which “The Big Easy” said helped him win the SAS.
“At Pebble I was a bit uncomfortable on the shorter putts and my technique was not quite where it should be,” Els said. “I had some time to think about it and work on it. And I actually, I mentioned Mark O'Meara. Mark saw me after the first day. I missed some shorter ones again, so we talked about it. We've played so much golf together, I've known him 25 years, so he gave me a little something to work on and here we are. I've got to thank him.”
Els explained the spirit of the Champions Tour is a different animal than on the PGA TOUR. More of a “rising tide floats all ships” mantra.
“I'll tell you this, I think the competition is more than I realized,” Els said. “I thought, eh, come in and push these guys around. These guys are … they're shooting under par. If the conditions are right, you'd better be on your game to compete with these guys. That's what I found.
“I've had a pretty nice go so far, I've had one win (now two) and quite a few close calls, but to get it pushed over the line you have to be really on your game; short game, every aspect of your game's got to be on. And a lot of these guys obviously have played a lot of these courses, so they're very familiar.
“But it's so great to play with these guys. I mean, you know, coming around and seeing the faces that I've known, that I've grown up with. I know we've all said it, but it's so true, that you want to play with guys that you grew up with, you know. Not saying that I don't want to play on the other tour, but it's really comfortable out here and we speak the same language, so to speak. And guys help each other out here, which I also remember back in the day.”
With Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson posting a pair of victories, and Brett Quigley and Shane Bertsch also in the win column, the rookie of the year race in the 2020-21 super season will be unlike any PGA TOUR Champions has ever seen.