Inside the Ropes: A lot has changed in one year for Open champion Els

Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Ernie Els is back where it all started to turn around.
The Big Easy will play again in the Open this week at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif. He tied for fourth last year in the Fall Series event, posting his only top-10 finish in a miserable season.
He returns as the Open champion, two months after claiming his fourth major championship with a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
And he never had second thoughts about coming back to CordeValle.
"I enjoyed playing last year and look forward to seeing my friend Hasso Plattner (who owns the course and also SAP, one of Els' sponsors) at CordeValle," Els said in Canada a week after winning the Open Championship.
Said tournament director Jeff Sanchez: " ... We were pretty confident he would come back. But the demands on major champions are significant. So we're very pleased."
It was about this time last year that Els turned in desperation to the belly putter, which he had claimed throughout his career should be illegal because it is anchored against the body.
He's had his ups-and-downs with the long wand but made several big putts while shooting 32 on the back nine at Royal Lytham, including the winner on the final hole as Adam Scott was in the process of blowing the lead by finishing with four consecutive bogeys.
"I basically had to make up my mind with this belly putter," said Els, who decided to switch after missing the cut in the 2010 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
"I still felt a little ... didn't know if I was going to use it in the long term. I decided now that if I'm going to use it for the long term, I might as well get really comfortable with it."
Els believes he might someday go back to the standard putter, perhaps as early as next season.
And he and all the others who use the long putters might be forced to give them up because the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association are taking a closer look at the situation.
That's at least in part because Keegan Bradley (2010 PGA Championship), Webb Simpson (2011 U.S. Open) and Els have won three of the last five majors using long putters anchored to their bodies.
"Right now I'm glad they haven't banned it," Els said when he made the switch. "If they ban it, that's also fine with me. As long as it's legal, I'll keep cheating like the rest of them.
"Guys can have a laugh at me, that's fine. I've done it to them. It is what it is. And until they ban it, you know, we can use it."
Els felt his game coming back early this season, when he tied for fifth in the Transitions Championship and tied for fourth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in consecutive weeks in March.
Then he lost to Jason Dufner in a playoff at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April and made a run in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in June until faltering down the stretch to finish ninth.
After tying for 52nd in the Scottish Open, he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
"I was just more secure of what I wanted to do," said Els, whose victory was his first since 2010 and came 10 years after he claimed his third major title, in the Open Championship at Muirfield. "And I think that obviously started at the U.S. Open -- I felt that and obviously it was a lot better at the Open.
"I felt more in control, more in control of my emotions and my game. I felt could stand up to the pressure again. And that's all the work that we put in leading up to that point. So although I didn't quite finish the way I wanted to (at the Olympic Club), I still felt calm, and that was good.
"And then we just felt comfortable at Lytham."
As often happens in the immediate afterglow of a major title, Els has not played his best golf since winning the Open, finishing 26th in the FedEx Cup standings, and he did not have a top-25 finish in the PGA Tour playoffs.
But he has enjoyed the ride. He even joined his wife, Liezl, in ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 28, two days after the Barclays, the playoff opener.
"Ernie was awesome," said Seth Waugh, chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank. "He walked the (Claret Jug) up Wall Street and around the floor. He was the pied piper and posed with everyone."
And to think that a year ago Els felt as if he had hit rock bottom and was searching for answers.
Now he's thinking he can win more majors.
"Stats are against you at our age," said Els, who is doing great work off the course with Els for Autism after announcing several years ago that his son, Ben, is autistic. "But I think the 40-somethings have really proven themselves through the years.
"You can go back to Mark O'Meara, you can even go further back to Ray Floyd, you can go back to Hale Irwin, you can go back to Ben Hogan. He won quite a few.
"Vijay Singh, myself, Darren Clarke, I mean, you're talking about quite a few guys in their 40s who have won majors."
Like those other guys, it seems he has found a second wind.

PGA TOUR: Open at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday through Sunday, 4-7 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel each day.
Last year: Bryce Molder holed a six-foot birdie putt on the sixth playoff hole to turn back Briny Baird and claim his first PGA Tour victory in his 131st start. Baird, who was seeking his first victory in his 348th start on the PGA Tour, seemed ready to end that streak when he chipped in for eagle one the 17th hole of the final round to take a one-stroke lead en route to a closing 4-under-par 67. However, the 32-year-old Molder sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to complete a 64 and force the playoff. Baird, 39, twice had birdie putts to win in the playoff but missed from eight feet and 12 feet. The longest playoff of the season on the PGA Tour also was the 17th of the year, setting a record dating to the beginning of the modern era in 1970.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn Golf and Spa in Conover, N.C., Friday through Sunday.
TV: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:30-4 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Mark Wiebe claimed his third Champions Tour victory with a par on the third playoff hole following a weather delay, beating James Mason, who missed a four foot putt for par that would have extended the playoff. The 53-year-old Wiebe, who won twice on the PGA Tour, ended a 77-tournament winless streak that dated to the 2008 Cap Cana Championship. Mason, 60, and Wiebe started the final round four strokes behind 36-hole leader Bob Tway but closed with 7-under-par 65s to finish tied for the lead, both making birdies on the par-5 18th hole. Tway shot 71 and skidded to a tie for eighth. Mason, 60, whose only Champions Tour victory came in the 2002 NFL Classic, had lost his playing card on the senior circuit but got into the tournament by shooting 62 in Monday qualifying.

LPGA TOUR: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30-11:30 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Na Yeon Choi of South Korea posted four rounds of 3-under-par 68 or better and held off top-ranked Yani Tseng of Taiwan by one stroke. Tseng, who started the day four strokes behind Choi, closed with a 7-under-par 65 in a bid for her seventh LPGA Tour victory of the year. She pulled even with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes. However, Choi holed a five-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to regain the lead and claimed her fifth LPGA Tour title but first in 2011, closing with a 68. It was the 100th victory on the LPGA Tour by players of South Korean descent. Tseng, who a week earlier beat Choi by one shot in the LPGA Hana Bank Championship, missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have forced a playoff,

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