Els, ‘little brother’ tied at Doral
Charl Schwartzel has been looking up to Ernie Els for as long as he
has been around golf.
Schwartzel was a toddler when his father and Els played
together in a team event they won at a local club in South Africa.
He remembers going to his first golf tournament, the Million Dollar
Challenge, to watch the Big Easy. He even became an affiliate
member of Els’ foundation, traveling with the team of junior
“He was like my big hero,” Schwartzel said Saturday.
The dynamics have changed dramatically at the CA
His hero now stands in the way of Schwartzel shining on a
Schwartzel ran off four birdies in the opening six holes, and
the 25-year-old South African stayed in the game with three big par
putts on the back nine for a 5-under 67. Els, a three-time major
champion with 60 victories worldwide, made a few soft mistakes and
had to settle for a 2-under 70 to join Schwartzel in a tie for the
lead at 12-under 204.
Els has rarely been so desperate to win. He is coming off a
season in which he failed to win anywhere in the world for the
first time since he was a 20-year-old playing his first full year
as a pro.
He has rarely been so pleased with a guy he is trying to
“I think it’s a wonderful, cool story,” Els said. “It’s great
for South African golf, obviously. A 25-year-old really making his
mark this year. He’s won twice. He’s a force to be reckoned with.
And I think it’s great. Tomorrow, we shake hands and play 18 holes
as hard as we can. He’s going to try and win. I’m going to try and
It will be an all-South African final pairing, three weeks
after another World Golf Championship event produced an all-England
pairing in the final of the Match Play Championship.
Only in this case, there are loads of other possibilities.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who had downplayed his chances
most of the week, ran off four birdies on the back nine only to
have his streak of 26 holes without a bogey end with a three-putt
on the 18th. He still had a 67 and was one shot behind.
Robert Allenby somehow remains in the mix. The Australian
missed eight putts from inside 15 feet and was falling out of
contention until two late birdies allowed him to salvage a 1-under
71, leaving him only two shots behind.
Bob Hope Classic champion Bill Haas nearly holed his final
shot on the 18th for a tap-in birdie and a 70. He was three shots
Els looks at Schwartzel as a little brother, and he showed
that earlier this month when Schwartzel was hanging around Florida
between the two WGC events. Els took him into his home, invited him
to practice at the Bear’s Club, even took him to play Seminole.
“I fed him well. I gave him good wine,” Els said. “So he owes
me big time. I think he had a great week. I’ve known him a long
time, and he almost feels like a little brother to me in some ways.
And now we are in the final round. I think if we talked about it
last week to end up this way, I don’t think we ever would have even
in our wildest dreams imagined that. I think it’s great.”
Schwartzel is the least accomplished among the top four
players, although he has one advantage — the recent experience of
Els has not won on any of the major tours since the Honda
Classic two years ago. Ditto for Harrington, whose last sanctioned
victory was the PGA Championship two years ago at Oakland Hills.
Schwartzel qualified for this elite event by winning
consecutive weeks in South Africa to move into the top 50 in the
world, now at No. 35. He didn’t win against the strongest field,
but he won.
“Obviously, this is a lot bigger than any others that I’ve
won,” Schwartzel said. “But when it comes down to winning, you’ve
still got to make the putts and hit the shots, so I’ll just keep
reminding myself that I have won and that I can do it. I’ll give it
a good shot.”
Els won on the Blue Monster in 2002, when he took an
eight-shot lead into the final round and survived a frenetic rally
by Tiger Woods to win by two. Els has a chance to join Woods as the
only multiple winners of this WGC event, having won in Ireland when
it was the American Express Championship in 2004.
Els showed so much confidence in his swing that he took his
drive over the left bunkers on No. 5, about a 285-yard carry with
the wind blowing across and slightly helping, which left him a flip
wedge to a few week for birdie. That started a stretch of three
birdies in four holes, only Schwartzel stayed with him.
He holed an 8-foot par putt on the 11th and one from about
the same distance on the 13th after a dreadful tee shot that was so
far to the right it clipped a tree and tumbled into the rough. Then
came the 14th, when his tee shot hung up in the shaggy collar of a
bunker, forcing him to place his left foot on a mound and his right
foot in the sand, no shot at reaching the green. He hit wedge to 18
feet and made that for par.
Els missed short birdie chances on the 12th and 16th, but
found a hard time complaining about a share of the lead.
Especially with Schwartzel at his side on a big day for South