Following a T-12 at last month’s Dubai Desert Classic, there was some chatter about Ernie Els possibly being a playing captain at this year’s Presidents Cup. Those rumblings are only getting louder after what the 49-year-old South African did during Thursday’s first round of the Honda Classic.
Els opened with a four-under-par 66 at PGA National despite a double bogey on the par-3 15th, the first of the course’s three-hole stretch known as “The Bear Trap.” Playing the back nine first, the watery miscue dropped him back to even par, but he birdied the par-5 18th before making the turn and adding three more birdies on the front nine.
“That freaking 15th hole is no good at all on this golf course,” Els told reporters after his round. “It’s a really demanding golf course, especially the par-3s. But yeah, I’ve really been swinging it better lately, and this is a golf course where you get it anywhere under par, you’re really happy, even in benign conditions like this morning. So really pleased.”
Els will captain the International Team at the Presidents Cup for the first time this December at Royal Melbourne. While many, including the four-time major champ, believe Tiger Woods will be a playing captain for the United States, there’s at least an outside chance that Els, who turns 50 in October, could play in the event for a ninth time. On Thursday, he spoke more about his playing partners, Adam Scott and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who he thinks will be part of his squad.
“Yeah, these guys are great. I love these guys,” said Els, who last played in the Presidents Cup in 2013. “Yeah, two of these guys are probably going to be on our team, and nice to see them close up. Obviously Scottie has been a great friend of mine for 20 years, Kiradech is a great player around the world and on the PGA TOUR now. A lot of good stuff here.”
But the best stuff in the group clearly came from its oldest member as Scott and Aphibarnrat shot 72 and 75, respectively.
Els has an interesting track record at PGA National with a victory in 2008, but no other top-20 finishes in 12 other starts. Three more days like this, though, and he could join Dustin Johnson, who picked up career PGA Tour win No. 20 last week in Mexico, in the tour’s 20-win club.
“I’ve been stuck on 20 for many years now,” Els said. “But I’m 49 now, so it’s not going to mean too much, but obviously 20 is a great number. Secretly on TOUR among the players, you know when you win 20 you get some benefits. It’s late in my career, but I’ll take any win now. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just thinking about tomorrow’s round and so forth. But it would be magic.”