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Els Made It Easy to Enjoy

July 25, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Ernie Els is known as the Big Easy because of a 6-foot-4 frame, a fluid swing and a smile that comes easily.

There was nothing easy about his British Open victory at Muirfield in Scotland. He had to survive some erratic play near the end of the final round--he double-bogeyed the 16th hole--and then he had to survive a four-way playoff.

However, Els appeared unrattled through it all--even when he put his approach shot on the fifth and final playoff hole in a greenside bunker. He hit out of the bunker to within five feet of the pin, made the par putt and walked off with the silver Claret Jug.

He made it appear easy, even though it wasn't.

Els is taking this week off but has committed to play in the International at Castle Rock, Colo., next week.

He won the International two years ago and is the tournament's leading money winner with $1,259,989.

Tiger Woods, according to the Associated Press, won't play again until the Buick Open Aug. 8-11 at Gland Blanc, Mich. The PGA Championship is the following week at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.

Second Best

Despite making some bad decisions, Frenchman Thomas Levet, who came into the Open ranked 134th in the world, won over a lot of fans. He not only took Els to a fifth sudden-death playoff hole, he also lost gracefully.

ABC announcers Curtis Strange and Mike Tirico were correct when they questioned why Levet kept insisting on using a driver off the tee instead of trying to protect his lead in the playoff.

Levet put his final two tee shots into the hay, costing himself a stroke on each hole and opening the door for Els.

It wasn't as painful to watch as Frenchman Jean Van de Velde's triple-bogey meltdown on the 18th hole at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, but it wasn't pleasant.

However, what was fun to watch was Levet's unwavering enthusiasm.

He played to the crowd as he walked toward the final green, trying to get them to cheer even louder.

And he seemed to be genuinely happy for Els, even hoisting him in the air.

Maybe Levet saw that as a photo opportunity, but let's hope not.

"Ernie deserved it," Levet said. "He's a great champion, and he played well."

As for finishing second, he said, "Wouldn't you take second place at the Open every year? I know I would."

That's a refreshing outlook.

Levet contributed to making it a memorable British Open, even with Woods out of contention after an 81 on Saturday.

Classy Moment

Woods did a lot to win over fans with what he did on Saturday. No, it wasn't his 81. It was the way he handled it.

Woods went on camera right after his round and made no excuses. He didn't complain about the wind, rain and terrible conditions, and when asked if his back was bothering him, he said no, his back was fine.

He showed a lot of class.

Bad Planning

Hopefully, the powers that be in golf learned an important lesson Sunday--if you have a four-way playoff, put everybody in one foursome.

ABC's Tirico and Strange were quick to criticize the two-and-two format, and their criticism was justified. It was confusing and hard to follow.

Having all four golfers play together would have been much easier to follow, and much more dramatic.

Golf Everywhere

Last weekend was a big one for golf. Besides the British Open on ABC, there was the B.C. Open on the Golf Channel, an LPGA tournament on ESPN2, the Senior SBC Open on CBS, the American Century celebrity tournament at Lake Tahoe on NBC and the Michael Douglas and Friends celebrity tournament, taped at Ojai, on ABC.

The British Open, of course, had the highest ratings, getting a 4.1 in Los Angeles Saturday and Sunday.

The Douglas tournament, which had the Open as a lead-in on Sunday, was the second most-watched tournament in L.A., getting a 2.3, its highest rating ever.

Calm After Storm

Although ABC has the Senior British Open and the top women golfers will be playing in the Big Apple Classic on NBC, this is somewhat of an off weekend for golf.

Besides Duffy Waldorf, the John Deere Classic on CBS doesn't have much of a field.

Battle at Bighorn

Things pick up on Monday, when ABC will televise the Battle at Bighorn from Palm Desert at 5 p.m. Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino will take on Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

This ends a three-year run of ABC Monday night golf at Bighorn. The event is expected to move to Twin Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe next year.

Monday night golf started four years ago as the "Shootout at Sherwood," when Woods beat David Duval at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

The announcers Monday will be Al Michaels, Tirico, Strange and "Monday Night Football" sideline reporter Melissa Stark.

More Woods

Southern California golf fans can look forward to seeing Woods play at least once and possibly twice more before the end of the year.

He is expected to play in the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) at Landmark Golf Club in Indio, and he will be the host for the Target World Challenge presented by Williams Dec. 2-8 at Sherwood.

Don't look for Duval to play in the Sherwood event. He wants to cut back on his off-season schedule.

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