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

golfers.

“He was like my big hero,” Schwartzel said Saturday.

The dynamics have changed dramatically at the CA

Championship.

His hero now stands in the way of Schwartzel shining on a

world stage.

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

beat.

“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

win.”

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

behind.

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

winning.

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

Africa.