Time will tell whether we should assign much meaning to Ernie Els's victory at the Honda Classic last weekend, but we may not have to wait long. After breaking his streak of 47 starts on the PGA Tour without a win, Els will play the PODS Championship at Innisbrook outside Tampa, Fla., this week, and his confidence will certainly be higher than it was at the Honda.
"I was really trying not to mess up out there," Els said on Sunday. "You know, if my confidence was maybe a little high, maybe I could have really separated myself a little bit, because my game, I really felt good with my game from tee to green."
There are others in the field with a great chance of winning this week. Having tied for fourth at the Honda, the defending champion, Mark Calcavecchia, comes to mind. Brian Gay got his first win at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico two weeks ago, and he tied for fourth place at the '07 PODS. J.B. Holmes, who made so much noise in Arizona this year, finished tied for eighth in Tampa last year.
But no player is as intriguing as Els, who over the last four years had begun to look more than a little like Greg Norman.
• Els contended in all four majors in 2004 and won none of them.
• Boo Weekley chipped in on 17 and 18 to beat him at the Verizon Heritage (Hilton Head) in 2007.
• Also last year, Els made an 8 on the last hole to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in South Africa.
• At the Dubai Desert Classic last month, Els took a four-shot lead into Sunday but was again hoodwinked by Tiger Woods, who fired a 65 and won when Els hit his second shot in the soup on 18.
• At the WGC-Accenture Match Play two weeks ago, Els lost 6 and 5 to Jonathan Byrd, the fifth time he's gone one-and-done there.
You get the idea. Coming into last week, the only person who needed a W in Florida worse than Ernie Els was Hillary Clinton.
At 38, Els has enjoyed more success than most (two U.S. Open titles and one British among his 60 worldwide victories), but he has also endured so much psychological trauma that it has been tempting to say he was done. To watch him at the Honda you couldn't help but wonder if he'd gotten some good therapy. Turns out he had.
"As many people will know, I've been working on and off over the past two years with the famous sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella," Els wrote on his Web site this week. "At the start of last week, having made an early exit in the Accenture, I decided to have a talk with Dr. Bob, just to see if I could regroup and maybe clear my mind. He knows me and he knows what I'm like. I think trying to win those tournaments and get better had maybe made me a little bit uptight, so we had a chat about a few things and tried to work on getting me a bit more relaxed. I felt like it helped. You know, I felt like my old self out there again."
Before this season Els said it was time to start winning again. He's done that. It remains to be seen whether he can keep winning, the way his old self did. Another W would further rehabilitate his psyche just in time for Bay Hill and Doral, courses where Els has won, Phil Mickelson has won, and where Woods will soon go for his fifth and sixth straight PGA Tour victories. A season that's already off to a strong start is getting better all the time.