Ernie Els, instead of rebounding, hits bottom at U.S. Open

June 17, 2011
Missed cuts
Instead of a rebound, Els hits bottom

Ernie Els won his second U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in 1997, and many thought that victory was the precursor of many more majors to come.

But since that win, Els has not lived up to expectations. What has been a down year turned even more disappointing on Friday, as Els shot a 73-75 — 148 and will miss the projected cut of 4 over par when the second round is completed Saturday morning.

“Right now, I’m just as low as I’ve ever been,” he said. “That’s a fact. I’ve got to get myself through this.”

Els came into the week hoping to rejuvenate his year by returning to the place of his past success. Instead, he only found more despair.

“I really thought coming into this week — I saw the course last week — when I saw conditions were quite soft and the greens were not running out, you could be aggressive,” he said.

Els said he felt good on the driving range before his round, but a four-putt on his first hole sapped his confidence. His first putt on No. 1 was from 20 feet, the second from just three feet. Instead, he sent that putt five or six feet down a hill.

“To four-putt your first hole is not right,” he said. “What are you going to do after that? I wasn’t really on my game my front nine. Just very disappointing. I never made one putt. It’s kind of been the story of my year up to now.”

Asked if there was anything he could do to get his putting back on track, Els replied: “Man, I don’t know. I should maybe just take some time off and reevaluate everything, see where I’m at. I’m just working hard and I’m not getting anything out of it. I should maybe just go away for a while.” . . .

The top 60 players and ties for 60th make the cut at the U.S. Open. Anybody within 10 shots of the leader also makes the cut, though with Rory McIlroy leading at 11 under, that provision wasn’t used this year.

— Kathy Orton

NOTABLE TRUNK-SLAMMERS: Angel Cabrera. The two-time major champion, including the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, began his second round with a double bogey at No. 1, then made bogey at Nos. 3 and 4 on the way to two-day total of 8-over 150.

Michael Campbell. The winner of the 2005 U.S. Open didn’t have a round better than 75 over the first two days and has made just one U.S. Open cut since his victory at Pinehurst.

K.J. Choi. Among the popular picks to win since he had won the AT&T National at Congressional in 2007, the South Korean shot an opening-round 77 and wasn’t able to recover.

Fred Funk. At 55 years old, the local favorite and former Maryland golf coach shot 75 on both days on a course he called too long for him.

Jim Furyk. The winner of 2003 U.S. Open and two-time runner-up missed his first cut at the event since his victory at Olympia Fields.

Geoff Ogilvy. Winner of 2006 U.S. Open shot 9 over, including a 76 on Friday, and has missed the cut in his past two U.S. Opens.

— Gene Wang

SMOKES, OUT: It was disappointing Friday for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who carded a two-day total of 8-over 150, including an opening-round 77 that ultimately doomed the Spaniard.

That, though, didn’t prevent the player affectionately nicknamed The Mechanic from enjoying a big fat cigar as he departed the course with his caddie. Or at least he was trying to do so.

Along the way, he stopped to socialize with several fans and even got a golf ball from his caddie to sign for a security worker near the media interview area by the clubhouse.

After one last conversation, Jimenez held his arms out at his side as if to suggest a lost weekend before finally getting to light his cigar and heading out for good.

— Gene Wang

In the hunt
Yang set up for another comeback

Y.E. Yang — distantly in second, five shots behind McIlroy — knows something about coming from behind. In the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, he trailed Tiger Woods by two shots after three rounds. In 14 previous instances in which he led or shared the lead headed into the final round of a major, Woods had won. But Yang beat him.

Saturday, he will play in the final group with McIlroy, charged with beating him.

“I don’t know what the score will be,” Yang said through an interpreter. “I don’t have any specific number. I do have a strategy, and that’s to zone out everything around me.”

Yang’s round of 69 Friday was solid, and he looked comfortable afterward. There might be a reason for that. Last year, at the Kolon Korea Open, he trailed countryman Seung Yul Noh — who made the cut here at even par — by 10 shots after three rounds. Noh collapsed, shooting 8 over, but Yang was there to benefit.

“Anything can happen in golf,” Yang said. “I know it’s sort of a different kind of level of golf tournament, but still, there are many amazing things that happen in golf.”

— Barry Svrluga

The Course
McIlroy aside, it’s rough going

Though McIlroy is making Congressional look as if it’s playing easily, the U.S. Golf Association feels differently. Executive Director Mike Davis likened this U.S. Open to 2000, when Tiger Woods was 12 under at Pebble Beach — and the next best score was 3 over, for runners-up Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els.

“When I walked off day one after the setup, I said, ‘Somebody’s going to shoot 65 today,’ and somebody did shoot 65,” Davis said. “They were soft enough conditions, and the greens were putting — contrary to what they look like, they putt very well.”

Congressional received roughly four-tenths of an inch of rain Thursday night and Friday morning, and that made the greens much more receptive to approach shots.

“That’s why you’re seeing so many balls back up,” Davis said. “But if we don’t get any more rain, I think by Sunday you’ll start to see the ball bounce on the greens a little bit more. [Saturday’s] probably still going to be soft. But the problem is we have rain forecast.”

— Barry Svrluga

Weather
Many who miss cut must come back

The second round was suspended at 8:04 p.m. because of weather, and at 8:15 p.m., play was called for the day because of impending darkness.

The confluence of events prevented the full 156-man field from completing play. That means 21 players — including several that will badly miss the cut — have to return to the course Saturday morning.

Play will resume at 8:15 a.m. Only when the second round is complete will the cut officially be determined and the pairings and tee times set for the third round, which will start at approximately 10.

Twenty-one players remained on the course when play was suspended, including Brandt Jobe, who was tied for eighth at 1 under. The original suspension came at 4:02 p.m. because of lightning in the area, and some heavy rain pelted Congressional shortly thereafter.

The delay lasted 44 minutes and didn’t affect McIlroy, who teed off at 7:55 a.m. Among those who have to come back Saturday — or withdraw — is Michael Barbosa, who sits at 22 over par and in dead last with one hole to play.

— Barry Svrluga

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