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Old magic from Ernie
NINE under par in Malaysia, five under in South Korea, two better in Mexico and 10 under, including a final round sub-par blitz of 64, at the Sea Island Resort in Georgia. So who exactly is this globetrotting 49-year-old veteran who has made four straight cuts on the 2018/19 PGA Tour which teed off early in October, and visits a good many corners of the world these days?
Well, you see, the Big Easy – not so long ago written off because, it seemed, he had lost his touch on the greens – has been playing some pretty smart golf recently, a year away from when he hits 50 and is eligible for the lucrative Champions Tour where, as they say, “you print your own money”. Not that Ernie Els, who is the tournament host at this week’s South African Open hosted by the City of Johannesburg at Randpark, is short of a bob or two after 70-plus worldwide victories, including four Majors and five SA Opens in a brilliant 29-year pro career.
The stats are there for all to see. Els is hitting fairways and rolling in the birdies again. That silky smooth swing is bringing rewards once more. And the putter is behaving. Why? Who really knows? Suffice to say this game will always be a mystery. But, to Ernie’s credit, the former world No1, who also made the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland early in October and was a commendable third in the European Tour’s Fiji International back in August, has never lost his desire to be the best.
Globetrotting? You bet. Now he’s back in Africa for some competitive golf, including the SA Open. Last week he again made the cut and was under par through 72 holes in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at the beautiful Anahita Four Seasons Resort, where he was making his debut and where he designed the golf course.
“Now,” he says, “we play the South African Open, a tournament which this year moves back to Randpark for the first time since 2000. And for the first time ever, this championship is tri-sanctioned between the Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour. As official player-host, and someone who obviously loves this tournament, it’s a pleasing development. These past few years we’ve made good strides in making this tournament one of the great championships of world golf again. This is another important step in this process, with a major internationally-recognised city such as Johannesburg aligning itself so strongly with our national Open. It’s going to be a special week at Randpark and, as always, one that all South Africans can be proud of.”
His own run of good golf? “Ja, I’m pleased to say there has been plenty about my game to enjoy, shooting under par in every start on the 2018/19 PGA Tour and hitting a lot of good solid shots. Let’s see if we can generate some momentum now. As I’ve said before, the motivation and desire are still there and I’m working hard keeping myself in good shape physically,” added the man who will captain the Presidents Cup team against the United States at Royal Melbourne in Australia next year.
So there you have it. A year away from turning 50, “old” Ernie’s producing some of that old magic again!
By Grant Winter