Sony Open

Repeat after me

Defending champion Ernie Els
will try to become a three-time
winner of the Sony Open


Ernie Els spent yesterday morning practicing with Michelle Wie, doing his best to put the drive behind him. Looking down the famed finishing hole at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Els was confident his fourth birdie of the week was waiting for him at the 18th green, 600-something yards away. Make it and Els would likely force the second playoff of his career at the Kapalua course. But it wasn't meant to be.

While eventual winner Stuart Appleby was preparing to settle for par, Els was smacking a drive down the right-hand side of the fairway. He would later say it was his intention to swing a little right, just not quite as far as he did.

"I wanted to hit it up the right side, get as much as I can out of the ball, the fairways are so soft," Els said. "I just hit it a little too far right. After I hit it, the (unusual Kona) wind carried it maybe a little short, but not much. I got a bad break. I hit it solid."

Playing partner Jonathan Kaye, who eventually finished second to two-time champion Appleby, was a bit surprised Els went for that shot.

"I don't know what he was doing, to be honest with you," Kaye said. "The wind was just a tad left to right. You know, I'm sure Ernie wishes he had that one over again. I don't really know what was going through his mind."

Entering tomorrow's first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, getting that shot out of his mind will be the most important task at hand as he tries to win the first full-field event on the PGA Tour for a record third consecutive time.

Perhaps if the ball hadn't hit the cart path and careened into the high stuff, Els would have had the opportunity to win the Mercedes Championships for the second time in three years, instead of Appleby. He will never know. But it's time to put that shot in the bag and get ready for a completely different course of events.

"This is obviously a course that has been kind to me the last two years," Els said. "I always enjoy coming here. So does my family. The thing to do is get ready for the next tournament. I had a chance to win last week. I didn't. Guys aren't going to feel sorry for you out here."

And Els isn't going to feel sorry for himself. He has a comfort zone at the par-70 Waialae Country Club course that the other 143 golfers playing here want for themselves. Two years ago, he beat Australian Aaron Baddeley in a playoff. Els faced a similar situation last year when he sunk a 30-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to defeat Harrison Frazar.

"I'd like to win one after 72 holes, but it's a great feeling no matter what," Els said. "I don't know what it is, but I really like the course. I always remember watching guys playing here on TV and thinking it would be fun to play over here. Obviously, I'm glad I played here in Hawaii the last few years."

With his tie for third with Tiger Woods on Sunday, Els earned $350,000 to push his career total to a healthy $24.8 million entering his 16th year on tour. Last year, he finished second to Vijay Singh with nearly $5.8 million. He won three PGA Tour events and two more on the European tour.

What was even more encouraging for Els was his stellar play at the majors. He had four top-10 finishes, including near-wins at the Masters and British Open. The South African started the final round of the Masters trailing Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco by three shots.

Two eagles helped him post a final round of 67 to take the clubhouse lead at 8-under 280. While waiting on the practice green he heard the roar of the crowd as Mickelson finally won his first major with an 18-foot putt at the 18th hole.

It was an even more gut-wrenching finish at the British Open. He lost in a four-hole playoff to rookie Todd Hamilton, whose first tournament of the year was here at the Sony Open, where he missed the cut. Hamilton bogeyed the 72nd hole to force the playoff. But he managed four pars to three pars and a bogey for Els.

"Obviously, trying to win a major is what it's all about," said Els, who already has three majors on the shelf. "The good news last year was I had a chance to win all four. The bad news is I didn't win any. But I'm looking forward to this year. I'm playing the kind of golf right now that gives me a chance to win."

Els enters this week of competition ranked No. 3 in the world behind Singh and Woods. He has a chance to be No. 1 this year if things fall into place. Unlike the past, when Woods had a choke hold on the top ranking, Els is close enough to the top to taste it. Since its inception in 1986, 12 different golfers have been ranked No. 1 in the world.

For Els to be lucky No. 13, he has to take advantage of the opportunities afforded him. Already a winner at the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens, and 2002 British Open, it's not as if the 35-year-old hasn't held up well in pressure-packed situations.

"But you never know when your good fortune is going to end," Els said. "You can't assume you're ever going to win another one until you do it. I gave myself some chances last year. I was close twice."

Joining Els in this year's Sony Open field is world No. 1 Singh and 23 other golfers who took part in the Mercedes Championships, including Hamilton and U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen. Wie is also making her second appearance here and will be trying to make the cut after missing by only one shot in 2004.

Other notables taking a swing at the championship trophy are past winners Paul Azinger (2000), John Cook (1992), Brad Faxon (2001), Jim Furyk (1996), John Huston (1998), local favorite David Ishii (1990), Jerry Kelly (2002), John Morse (1995), Corey Pavin (1986 and '87) and Jeff Sluman (1999).

Championship Tour veteran Tom Kite is also scheduled to tee it off as well as former Kailua resident Scott Simpson, Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer, Peter Jacobsen, Steve Jones and Larry Mize.

"It's always a great field here that seems to get stronger every year," Els said. "I've already put last week behind me. I have nothing but good memories over here."


Sony Open in Hawaii

Ernie Els will defend his title in the Sony Open tomorrow after finishing tied for third with Tiger Woods in the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua last week.

Who: The PGA Tour's first full-fledged field of 144 this year.
When: Tomorrow through Sunday.
Where: Waialae Country Club, 7,068 yards, par-70 (35-35).
Time: 7 a.m., Tomorrow and Friday; 7:30 a.m., Saturday; 8:30 a.m., Sunday.
Prize money: $4.8 million, with the winner earning $864,000
Defending champion: Ernie Els
Tickets: Daily admission tomorrow through Sunday $15. Season badges (good all week) $50. Children 12 and under free with paying adult.
TV: ESPN, 1:30-4 p.m., tomorrow; 2-4:30 p.m., Friday; 2-5:30 p.m., Saturday; 2:30-5 p.m., Sunday.
Parking: Free at Hunakai Park and across the street from Kapiolani Community College on Diamond Head Road.
Shuttle bus service: Complimentary shuttle from free parking area at Hunakai Park and across from Kapiolani Community College. E Noa will provide shuttle service ($2 one way) from Waikiki to the golf course -- stops include the Hilton Hawaiian Village Tapa Tower, Ohana Islander Hotel, Waikiki Aquarium, and other locations.
City bus: Regular city bus service will be available. Call TheBus information department at 848-5555 or visit thebus.org for routes and times.

Tomorrow's Tee times

First tee

7:20 a.m.: Cameron Beckman, John Riegger, Paul Casey. 7:29: Jesper Parnevik, Arron Oberholser, Todd Fischer. 7:38: Matt Gogel, Briny Baird, Steve Allan. 7:47: Zach Johnson, Frank Lickliter II, Jerry Kelly.
7:56: Ryan Palmer, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk. 8:05: Vijay Singh, Jonathan Byrd, Craig Stadler. 8:14: Bart Bryant, Corey Pavin, Len Mattiace. 8:23: John Rollins, Pat Perez, Brian Bateman.
8:32: Luke Donald, Duffy Waldorf, Harrison Frazar. 8:41: Charles Warren, Greg Owen, Chris Tidland. 8:50: Jason Bohn, D.J. Brigman, Takashi Kamiyama. 8:59: Paul Claxton, Rob Rashell, Jonathan Mathias.
11:45 a.m.: Scott Simpson, Tom Kite, Tim Petrovic. 11:54: Paul Azinger, Ted Purdy, Daniel Chopra. 12:03 p.m.: Chris Riley, Spike McRoy, Patrick Sheehan.
12:12: Retief Goosen, Mark Hensby, John Huston. 12:21: David Toms, Craig Parry, Loren Roberts. 12:30: Adam Scott, John Cook, Steve Jones.
12:39: Charles Howell III, Rich Beem, Craig Perks. 12:48: Dudley Hart, Franklin Langham, Thomas Levet. 12:57: Jeff Maggert, Geoff Ogilvy, Hank Kuehne.
1:06: D.A. Points, Jason Allred, Toru Taniguchi. 1:15: D.J. Trahan, Sean O'Hair, Kevin Carll. 1:24: Jimmy Walker, Nick Watney, Hideki Kase.

10th tee

7:20 a.m.: Robert Allenby, Joe Durant, Danny Briggs. 7:29: Bernhard Langer, Brett Quigley,Peter Lonard. 7:38: Chris Smith, Robert Gamez, Sean Murphy.
7:47: Ernie Els, Steve Flesch, Brad Faxon. 7:56: Heath Slocum, Kirk Triplett, Shaun Micheel. 8:05: Fred Funk, Jonathan Kaye, Rory Sabbatini.
8:14: Vaughn Taylor, Carlos Franco, Tommy Armour III. 8:23: Brian Gay, Hidemichi Tanaka, John Senden. 8:32: Tom Pernice Jr., Larry Mize, Ian Poulter.
8:41: Paul Gow, Dick Mast, Greg Meyer. 8:50: Kevin Stadler, Euan Walters, Toshi Izawa. 8:59: Brett Wetterich, Matt Davidson, Michelle Wie.
11:45 a.m.: Tom Byrum , Skip Kendall, Omar Uresti. 11:54: Billy Mayfair, Bo Van Pelt, Michael Allen. 12:03: John Morse, Bradley Hughes, Tag Ridings.
12:12: Brent Geiberger, Chad Campbell, Shigeki Maruyama. 12:21: Andre Stolz, Rod Pampling, Ben Crane. 12:3: Peter Jacobsen, Jeff Sluman, Tom Lehman.
12:39: Woody Austin, Todd Hamilton, Tim Herron. 12:48: Joe Ogilvie, Aaron Baddeley, Kevin Na. 12:5: Bob Estes, Justin Rose, Andrew Magee.
1:0: John Elliott, James Driscoll, David Ishii. 1:15: Brian Davis Hideto Tanihara, Brendan Jones. 1:24: Ryuji Imada, Justin Bolli, John Lynch.

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