Els rips Tiger's swing
Ernie Els (left) and Tiger Woods during second round of this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Reuters)
Ernie Els and I are close.
Well, The Big Easy might not know it but we became good pals this summer when his caddy Ricci Roberts convinced me — over a pint or two — that it would be a wise move to plunk down some dough on his man Ernie to win the British Open at 40-1 odds.
Obviously, golf writers would never bet on the sport they cover for a living. And we never take free lunches … or gimmies.
Enough about that.
Turns out, Els is the gift that keeps on giving.
The current issue of the South African Golf Digest has the British Open champ on the cover. Come to think of it, he’s probably on the cover every month but this headline stood out: “What Els has to say about Tiger.”
I assumed there wouldn’t be much meat on the bone but I couldn’t resist downloading the issue.
Just like this summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Els brought his A-game to the interview.
“When he won at Bay Hill I thought, ‘Here we go.’ But he’s not the same as he was and something is missing,” Els says about Tiger Woods in the article.
The intimidation factor Tiger had over the entire field has been discussed for years but rarely has it been addressed by his chief rivals. Els confirmed that playing against Tiger in years past was bad for a golfer’s mental health but says it’s not the same for the current generation of pros.
“I played with Woods and Brandt Jobe at the Honda and Brandt was in shock … he couldn’t fathom Tiger shooting 62 in tough, blustery conditions. So I said to him, ‘This is the s*** we had to deal with. This is how he played every week. How are you supposed to compete against that?’ I shot 71 that day and Brandt 69. I think there were five rounds in the 60s. But now, these kids have never seen Tiger do that. They aren’t scared of him.”
Despite the fact that it seems every person who owns a set of golf clubs has thrown in their two cents about Tiger’s comeback and swing change, it still comes as a bit of a surprise to hear Els talk so candidly about it.
“I hope we’ll see Tiger be special again, but I don’t think he can do it with that swing he has now … I’ve seen unbelievable stuff, but Rickie Fowler never has. He’s not played with Tiger when he had the Butch (Harmon) swing. If he had that swing today, he could have 25 majors. And I don’t think he’d be injured — he’s strong as an ox. Snapping a knee isn’t going to snap a tendon. That swing was the major winner, the one now isn’t.”
I don’t normally like to give shout-outs to other media but if you’re reading today’s Toronto Sun in South Africa, pick up a copy of Golf Digest and read the more from Peter Master’s article.
Having Els speak so openly is great material for golf’s endless Tiger debate.
What do the answers say about Els? Nothing, of course. Other than it showing the big South African to be breath of fresh air in pro sports — an athlete willing to answer the question that he is asked.
It says much more about Tiger’s slowly fading mystique. A few days ago, Rory McIlroy was quoted in U.K. Times saying he and his new best pal Tiger often trade barbs with one another.
“I give him grief about all sorts. Getting old, getting bald,” McIlroy told the paper.
Isn’t that when Tiger is supposed to throw you in an armbar, drag you to the first tee and beat you 9&8?
But something is missing. Els says it’s the new swing but the stats don’t necessarily back that up. Woods driving stats and ball-striking stats are the best of his career. He’s higher ranked in strokes gained through putting than McIlroy (26th for Tiger compared to 76th for Rory).
What is it then?
While his distance control with his scoring irons has been awful, that’s not the whole story.
Let’s go back to Els quote from the Golf Digest article: “When he won at Bay Hill I thought ,‘Here we go.’ But he’s not the same as he was and something is missing,”
Call it confidence. Call it mystique. Call it anything you want.
The question is — can he get it back?
History is full of sporting legends who tried to get back to the mountaintop and failed.
If Woods does pull it off and regain his dominant form to break Jack Nicklaus’ major record, one thing is certain: It will be the greatest second act in sports history.
The Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup would be a fine place to start. But old, bald Tiger will have his hands full with his little buddy Rory on the way.