Els a runner-up once again

Updated: January 17, 2005, 12:25 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

HONOLULU -- This just in: Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are really good golfers.

OK, so it's not just in, but our deepest suspicions were confirmed once again, as the players ranked first and third in the world climbed their way to the top of the leaderboard on Sunday at the Sony Open.

But it's not so much that they finished 1-2 that's so interesting; it's that Singh winning and Els finishing oh-so-close have become common themes on the PGA Tour in the past 12 months.

The Weekly 18 starts with the idea that Els isn't getting any more used to being a runner-up.

1.
Something Els

He shot a course record-tying 62 in the final round. He almost won the Sony for the third straight time. He's the No. 3 player in the world.

So why wasn't Ernie Els smiling on Sunday night?

It may have a little something to do with his inability to win when in contention lately. Sure, he almost came from eight shots back through 54 holes to grab the win, but in the end this was just another week in which Els toiled on the leaderboard, but didn't finish on top.

His results at the four majors last year make even the casual fan cringe: He lost to a fate-riddled Phil Mickelson at the Masters; he shot a final-round 80 on a tricked-up Shinnecock course at the U.S. Open; he lost in a playoff to Todd Hamilton at the British Open; and he three-putted the final green to miss a playoff at the PGA Championship.

What was a developing pattern has now turned into a trend. After three straight rounds in the 60s at last week's Mercedes Championships, Els shot a final-round 71 to finish in a share of third place. His PGA Tour resume includes two wins in the past 12 months, but it also includes nine other top-10 finishes.

For players like Els, good finishes are hardly confidence builders. He needs to win.

2.
One more time?

One last note on Michelle Wie for the week, from her final press conference on Friday evening. When asked if she would tee it up with the men again this year, the 15-year-old feigned any knowledge of that part of her schedule, only speaking on a few upcoming LPGA and USGA events she'll compete in. One has to wonder, though, if officials from other PGA Tour events will look at the second straight spike in ticket sales at the Sony and grant her further sponsor's exemptions. Sure, she has more fans in her hometown, but she'll attract a crowd no matter where she plays.

3.
Howell do you do?

Charles Howell III might not be the wealthiest Howell to make his way to a tropical island, sitcom fans, but he came away $278,400 richer after his T-3 finish. Look for a big comeback year from Howell, who finished outside of the top 30 on the money list a year ago. It would be pretty surprising if he didn't make the trip to East Lake this year.

4.
Ace in the hole

With his hole-in-one on the 205-yard fourth hole in Saturday's third round, Shigeki Maruyama had a chance to become the third player in the past four years to win a tournament in which they had an ace. The ones who actually did it? Mark Hensby in last year's John Deere Classic and Jim Furyk in the '02 Memorial.

5.
Crowd pleaser

There's a famous shot of Maruyama -- who now has four holes-in-one on tour -- jumping up and down after making an ace before the boisterous crowd at Bethpage in the 2002 U.S. Open. Known for always having a smile on his face, Maruyama had a somewhat calm reaction to his latest one. His own words, as interpreted through his translator: "I wasn't expecting that ball to go into the hole. So I should do more overreacting after the ball went in the hole, but I wasn't expecting it, so that was my disappointment to me, no overreaction for ESPN."

6.
373 and counting ...

For a little while on Sunday, tour veteran Robert Gamez showed up on the top of the leaderboard, but he faded late and finished T-9. It would have been a watershed win had Gamez hung on. His last win came in the 1990 Bay Hill Invitational, 373 starts and almost 15 years ago. The only player with a longer streak between wins is Ed Fiori.

7.
Hawaiian punch

The most successful Hawaii native currently on the PGA Tour, Dean Wilson was disappointed when he failed to receive a sponsor's exemption. The fourth alternate, he got into the field before the tournament started and made the most of it, making the cut before finishing in 76th place.

8.
Full Mast

The Sony featured a trio of heavy hitting senior players in Craig Stadler, Peter Jacobsen and Tom Kite, but they were all chasing Dick Mast on Friday. The 53-year-old Monday qualifier shot the best round of the first two days -- a 6-under 64 in the second round. He finished at T-47, but don't look for Mast to pass any of those three in the Champions Tour standings this year; he only has conditional status.

9.
Stads vs. Stads

Not only did he make the cut, but Stadler earned Low Stads honors this week. Competing in the same event as his son Kevin, a rookie on the PGA Tour, the elder Stadler finished T-9. The younger Stads, meanwhile, shot 71-72 to miss the cut by one stroke.

10.
Rookies representing

Despite Stadler's failure to make it to the weekend, rookies were well represented. Of the 16 tour newcomers who traveled to Hawaii, nine made the cut: Jason Allred, D.J. Trahan, D.A. Points, Sean O'Hair, Rob Rashell, Ryuji Imada, Nick Watney, Greg Owen and Joey Snyder III. Allred earned low-rookie honors with four rounds of par-or-better to finish T-17.

11.
Under Armour

What's gotten into Tommy Armour III lately? After a T-2 finish in the Chrysler Championship, his last start of '04, Armour started this season on the leaderboard as well, shooting a final-round 66 for a T-7 finish.

12.
Aging gracefully

At one point during the Sony, 40-somethings Paul Azinger, Jeff Sluman and Jeff Maggert were on the leaderboard before shooting their way off. But they weren't replaced by younger players; instead, six other players in their 40s -- Singh, Armour, Stadler, Andrew Magee, Tom Lehman and Bart Bryant -- each finished in the top 10.

13.
Nine lives

It's not often you see a "9" on the scorecard of a PGA Tour player, let alone the No. 4-ranked golfer in the world. But such was the case for Retief Goosen. On the first hole of the Sony Open -- ranked as one of the toughest on tour in '04 -- Goosen yanked two drives out of bounds before finally putting one in play. He scored a quintuple-bogey nine on the par-4 hole, but bounced back to shoot a 2-over 72 for the round and finished the week at T-56.

14.
On the Matt

Poor Matt Davidson. The Furman University product turned pro after graduating last year, playing in only a few Tarheel Tour events and PGA Tour Q School before earning his card. Usually when a player tees it up for the first time on tour, he's surrounded by a few family members and a random fan wondering who he actually is. Not Davidson. Paired with Michelle Wie on Thursday and Friday, he hit his first shot on tour in front of hundreds of fans ... and pounded a drive right down the narrow fairway of the 10th hole. The magic wouldn't last, however, as he shot a front-nine 41 on his way to a 77.

15.
Off the Matt

After his opening round, Davidson had some praising, yet puzzling comments on Wie. "She's very polished," Davidson said. "She has all the tools to be out here." Of course, Davidson isn't exactly an expert on the subject. He's played in one fewer PGA Tour event than Wie.

16.
Eighteen and life

For the second straight week, a tour event concluded with a par-5 finishing hole. While Kapalua's Plantation Course and Waialae CC have been set up like this for years, more courses on all tours are continuing this trend. Anytime eagle is a possibility on the final hole, it makes TV viewers and gallery members stick around a little longer for that "just in case" moment.

17.
Teen scene

On the heels of Wie's performance this week comes news that Morgan Pressel, 16, will receive a sponsor's exemption to play in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's first major of the year. She's an old veteran to these situations already, having played in the U.S. Open at age 12. Don't be surprised to see Pressel, Wie and fellow teens Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer and South African Ashleigh Simon make a splash in the majors this season.

18.
Quote of the week

"I'm just going to go for some retail therapy for a couple of days,"
--Michelle Wie, on how shopping will help her get over missing the cut.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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