Els up to old tricks at Sony

Originally Published: January 18, 2004
By David Lefort | ESPN.com

Another Sony Open in Hawaii, another stumble (or was it more of a skip?) into the sunset for Ernie Els.

Ernie Els
AP PhotoErnie Els adds another Sony Open trophy to his case.

Els won the PGA Tour's first full-field event for the second straight season, both times failing to shut the door in regulation and in both cases making up for his late gaffes with playoff dramatics.

"A playoff in the Sony -- it's working out fine for me,'' said Els, who shot a 5-under 65 Sunday despite a few hiccups.

He was leading Harrison Frazar by two shots late Sunday as he lined up a 30-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole. Frazar, meanwhile, was in the greenside rough, chipping for par. Els could have locked it up, but he instead watched Frazar hole a gorgeous chip-in for par before three-putting for bogey himself. It was his only three-putt of the week.

Frazar went on to make a big birdie putt at the 17th to tie it at 17-under, and both made birdies on the 18th (Els made a clutch 10-footer) to force extra holes.

On the first playoff hole (again the 18th), Els had a clear edge: He was sitting in the short grass with a clear shot at the green while Frazar was in a fairway bunker. Els sailed the putting surface with his approach and ended up in the stands (he appeared to have been bothered during the swing). After a free drop, he went on to make par. Frazar did the same, happy to have gotten away with his mistake off the tee.

Frazar -- who dropped to 0-for-161 on the PGA Tour despite a heroic effort -- only delayed his fate. Two holes later on the par-3 11th, Els drained a 30-foot birdie putt to become the first person to go back-to-back at the Sony in 17 years.

It was a similar story of breakdown and redemption for Els last year.

Around the tours ...

This week:
Sony Open in Hawaii
Site:
Honolulu, Hawaii
Course:
Waialae Country Club
(7,060 yards, par 70)
Top finishers:
1 Ernie Els (-18)
2 Harrison Frazar
3 Davis Love III
4 Frank Lickliter II
T5 Jerry Kelly
T5 Briny Baird
7 John Riegger
T8 Stephen Ames
T8 Craig Barlow
T10 Omar Uresti
T10 Vijay Singh
T10 John Huston
T10 Retief Goosen
T10 Paul Azinger


This week:
South African Open
Site:
Cape Town, South Africa
Course:
Erinvale Golf Club
(7,087 yards, par 72)
Top finishers:
1 Trevor Immelman (-12)
T2 Alastair Forsyth
T2 Steve Webster
4 Darren Fichardt
T5 David Carter
T5 Miles Tunnicliff
T5 Marcus Fraser
T5 Raphael Jacquelin
T9 Sven Struwer
T9 Titch Moore
T9 Stephen Scahill
T9 Nico van Rensburg
T9 Brett Rumford
T9 Stephen Dodd
T9 Anders Hansen

Tied with rookie Aaron Baddeley with two holes to play, Els faced a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th. In his line about three feet from the hole was Baddeley's coin mark, and Els failed to ask the young Aussie to move it (he later said he misread the putt). Wouldn't you know it, as Els' putt was tracking toward the hole, the ball hit the marker, preventing it from dropping. It would prove to be big, as Baddeley went on to bogey the hole to fall a shot behind Els.

Both had makeable birdie putts on the 18th: Els missed and Badds made his to force the playoff, which Els eventually won on the second extra hole with a winding 55-footer.

The moral of the story? When Els leaves the door open, make sure you slam it shut. Especially in Hawaii.

Three Observations

1.
  Fourteen-year-old Michelle Wie wasn't around for the weekend, but any wrapup of the Sony Open would be incomplete without a recap of what Wie accomplished in Honolulu.

She followed a first-round 2-over 72 with a 2-under 68 on Friday that left her one agonizing shot short of becoming the youngest person (male or female) to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. Her highlights:

  • Wie hit 19 of 28 fairways off the tee (68 percent) and 20 of 36 greens in regulation (56 percent).

  • She had just one three-putt and 19 one-putts (including on 12 of her last 14 holes Friday).

  • More on her stellar short game: Wie made 30 of 33 putts from inside 10 feet, and seven putts from beyond 10 feet -- including two 50-plus-footers.

  • According to the PGA Tour, Wie averaged 271 yards off the tee (though the tour only measures drives on two holes) and hit three tee shots more than 300 yards.

  • Her 2-under 68 Friday was easily the best score posted by a woman on the PGA Tour in the last year (Annika Sorenstam's 71 at the Colonial was second), and she came closer to making the cut than either Sorenstam (four shots) or Suzy Whaley (13 shots short at the GHO).

  • Listen up, guys: Wie beat 48 players with her even-par 140 score, including five whom won on the PGA Tour in 2003 (Scott Hoch, Steve Flesch, Adam Scott, Craig Stadler and Rory Sabbatini). She also finished tied with two of last year's major champions (Jim Furyk and Ben Curtis), the winner of last week's season-opening Mercedes (Stuart Appleby) and a veteran who won three times in 2003 (Kenny Perry). Not too shabby.

    Next up for the 14-year-old Wie is a return to ninth grade, but we'll be seeing her again soon. She'll play in the LPGA's Safeway International in mid-March and a week later will tee it up in the LPGA's first major -- the Kraft Nabisco, where she finished tied for ninth last year.

    2.
      The Sony Open must hold a special place in Paul Azinger's heart.

    It was there in 2000 that Azinger earned his first victory since his 1993 PGA Championship, his first win after battling and beating the cancer that kept him out of golf for most of 1994 and took a toll on his game.

    This week, the Sony Open was again a silver lining after a very cloudy 2003 season: His tie for 10th was his best showing in more than a year. He posted three rounds of 67 or better in Oahu, compared to just six such rounds all of last season. He finished 169th on the money list in 2003, making just 10 cuts in 26 events and failing to post a top-10 finish all year.

    Trevor Immelman
    Immelman

    3.
      Trevor Immelman followed up a breakthrough season on the European Tour by successfully defending his South African Open title, coming from two strokes back Sunday to win with a final-round 67.

    A local favorite who is very familiar with the Erinvale course, Immelman picked up his second victory in his last two outings, his previous coming in November's World Cup with fellow South African Sabbatini.

    Colin Montgomerie started his season early in a bid to assure himself a spot on the European Ryder Cup squad, finishing tied for 16th in his first event with a new caddie, new clubs and a new ball.

    David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and he can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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