Kapalua, Maui » The love affair Ernie Els has had with the Plantation Course dates back to the turn of the 21st century. But like all great romances, it hasn’t always been the big easy.
From his heart-breaking overtime loss to Tiger Woods in 2000 to his record-setting 31-under performance in 2003 to his errant drive at the closing hole in 2005 that cost him dearly, Els has dealt with the highs and lows of his Maui marriage.
The South African shot himself into contention yesterday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a blistering 9-under 64 that was reminiscent to the rounds of 64, 65, 65, 67 that led to his lone victory here eight years ago. Els has played here six times previously. He has finished no worse than third four of those six.
After Thursday’s opening round of 72, which included a bogey at the 18th with a three-putt from 8 feet, Els needed something special to get him back into the thick of it. He did just that yesterday with a bogey-free round that included nine birdies. Els begins today’s third round tied for fourth, four shots off the pace of second-round leader Robert Garrigus, with a chance to make some noise in the opening event on the PGA Tour.
"Just the place, man," Els said when asked to explain his tremendous success here. "It’s just the best place in the world. You come here, first week of the year, just an incredible place. It gives you a lot of room off the tee. Obviously, I love that.
"I’m not too afraid playing in the wind and I think the way the golf course was designed, they did a great job with the trade winds in mind and the slope of the land. I just feel it’s a fun week, great week. I always enjoyed bringing my family here. A very nice place to start."
Els got off to a ho-hum start with four consecutive pars, but then went on a birdie binge with four over the next five holes to close out the front nine in 32. He had another five birdies coming in on the par-73 course and is thankful for all the good memories he can draw upon here.
But what about those negative thoughts creeping in? He’s had a few errant shots here through the years that cost him a chance to hoist the trophy more than once.
"That’s the secret, I guess," Els said. "When I come to a venue where you’ve been quite a few times and as you say you’ve hit great shots and bad shots; you can’t help your mind just wandering off into the negative. The challenge is to get back to where you should be going.
"Almost on every hole, I’ve hit a really good one and a really bad one. They say experience is good, but it can also be a negative. That is the challenge here, to keep positive."
Els changed playing partners after arriving at the course yesterday morning. Camilo Villegas was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, so funny man Rocco Mediate stepped in to fill Els’ dance card and it was the perfect formula for the man coming off a win in South Africa.
"That was really fun playing with Rocco," Els said. "I mean, what a character. He should be a stand-up somewhere in the world. He’s unbelievable. I was disappointed not to play with Camilo, but when Rocco stepped in, I knew it was going to be a good day.
"It’s funny, (the birdie putt on 17) was about the fifth putt that I was almost on the same line as Rocco, just inside his ball. He gave me quite a few nice reads today. When I made that putt, it was all over. You can imagine what Rocco said. I’m supposed to buy him beers right now."
ERNIE AT KAPALUA
Ernie Els’ record at the season-opening tournament on Maui
|» 2009:||Tied for sixth|
|» 2005:||Tied for third|
|» 2004:||Tied for 21st|
|» 2001:||Tied for third|
TODAY’S TEE TIMES
» 10:15 a.m.: Derek Lamely, Rocco Mediate
» 10:25: Heath Slocum, Stuart Appleby
» 10:35: Jason Bohn, Zach Johnson
» 10:45: Cameron Beckman, Charley Hoffman
» 10:55: Ryan Palmer, Matt Bettencourt
» 11:05: Arjun Atwal, Justin Rose
» 11:15: Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim
» 11:25: Tim Clark, Bubba Watson
» 11:35: Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott
» 11:45: Jason Day, Graeme McDowell
» 11:55: Bill Lunde, Bill Haas
» 12:05 p.m.: Ben Crane, Ian Poulter
» 12:15: Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson
» 12:25: Steve Stricker, Francesco Molinari
» 12:35: Jonathan Byrd, Ernie Els
» 12:45: Robert Garrigus, Carl Pettersson
At Kapalua Plantation Course Par 73