ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Ernie Els has had some peculiar travel habits this year. He flew 10 hours from London to Arizona to play in the Accenture Match Play Championship after saying he would not compete, then he decided against a 15-minute drive down Apopka-Vineland Road to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Els withdrew from Bay Hill on Monday, and word was the tournament host was not pleased.
“As far as I’m concerned, Arnold Palmer is the King and I will always be appreciative of the start that he gave me in America when I first played here in 1993,” said Els, who won 10 years ago at Bay Hill. “I will personally be speaking to Arnie to explain why I have taken the difficult decision to pull out after supporting his tournament for the last 15 years.”
So why did he take this week off?
The bottom line is that I have to ensure that my body and game are in perfect shape in the run-up to the Masters,” Els said in a statement. “There are things I need to take care of this week, which means that Bay Hill does not fit into my new schedule as I would have liked it to.”
DOUBLE DIPPING: The PGA Tour scored a small victory last month when the USGA recognized the FedEx Cup while handing out exemptions to the U.S. Open. Along with giving a free pass to the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list, those in the top 30 in the final FedEx Cup standings don’t have to qualify, either.
It was thought the USGA would pick one or the other, but officials recognized it would only affect a couple of players. By also taking the field from the Tour Championship, Jonathan Byrd and Camilo Villegas are exempt for Torrey Pines.
“Doing the numbers, I am very confident that the majority of the U.S. Open field will still come via qualifying,” USGA executive director David Fay said Tuesday. “Adding the Tour Championship field will not tilt that.”
And that was important to the USGA, since 54 percent of the field last year came from qualifying.
“Not to bring politics into this in an election year, but we like to think the U.S. Open is the most democratic golf championship,” Fay said.
PAINFUL BIRDIE: Stewart Cink already had in effect lost the tournament when he rolled in a 50-foot birdie putt that allowed him to join six players at second place, which was worth about $130,000 and extra FedEx Cup points.
But that putt was plenty significant to John Senden.
The lanky Australian was on the cusp of moving into the top 50 in the world rankings, and a five-way tie for second would have made him eligible for the World Golf Championship at Doral next week, an event Senden has never played.
With a six-way tie at Innisbrook, Senden moved up only to No. 51, missing out by one-hundredth of a point. He still has one more chance at Bay Hill to crack the top 50.
“Same scenario as last year,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve got to play well.”
At least this year, Senden appears to have a fighting chance.
He was at No. 52 last year when he arrived at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, desperate to get into the top 50 for two reasons. It would make him eligible for Doral, and give him one more week to qualify for the Masters. But he started feeling sick early in the week, and was so ill Thursday morning that he couldn’t make it to the first tee.
“I’ve always been just on the outside,” Senden said. “It would be exciting to get Doral with lots of world points. My goal is to play all four majors this year. I’m in two right now.”
One of those is the Masters. He qualified by tying for fourth in the PGA Championship last year.
CUT POLICY: Controversy seems to follow the PGA Tour cut policy no matter what it is.
The most recent change allowed for a secondary cut after the third round if more than 78 players made the cut. Seventy-nine players made the cut last week at Innisbrook, and the 54-hole cut to top 70 and ties eliminated eight players.
So it worked — except for one thing.
The second cut was not made until Sunday morning because of weather delays, so the final round features threesomes on both tees. If the tour had stuck with the original change — closest number to 70 play the final two rounds — then 64 players would have advanced to the third round, and there would have been enough daylight to finish.
“I find that ironic,” said Paul Goydos, no fan of either change. “I find that hilarious.”
TOO LITTLE, WAY TOO LATE: Dottie Pepper joined some of the NBC Sports staff for a round on the Island course at Innisbrook early in the week at the PODS Championship. She looked as if she had seen a ghost when she pulled up to the practice green.
“The 18th green brought back some bad memories,” she said.
She had not been on the Island Course since 1984, when she was a freshman at Furman and had a chance to win the NCAA title until a three-putt on the last hole.
A day later, Pepper returned to the Island course. Playing the 18th, she holed out from the fairway for eagle with a 7-iron.
POULTER POTENTIAL: Ian Poulter says his comments were taken out of context by a British golf magazine, but that hasn’t let him off the hook with his peers — not only players, but caddies.
Some quick background, if needed.
Poulter told U.K.-based Golf World that while he respects every golfer, “I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”
John Wood, the looper for Hunter Mahan, arrived at Riviera early Sunday with his game face on.
“I think this is the day that I reach my full potential as a caddie,” Wood said. “And when I do, it will be just me and Stevie.”
That would be Steve Williams, caddie for Tiger Woods.
DIVOTS: The PODS Championship had a stronger field than the Honda Classic, based on the world rankings. … David Toms is not eligible for the CA Championship, the first time he has missed a World Golf Championship since Firestone in 2000. … Tiger Woods again will play the Tavistock Cup, matches between touring pros from Isleworth and Lake Nona in the Orlando area. Newcomers to the Isleworth team include J.B. Holmes, Daniel Chopra and Paula Creamer.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Justin Leonard is No. 32 in the world. He was at No. 210 a year ago.
FINAL WORD: “My first practice round was Tuesday, and I played with Tiger and Mark O’Meara. I needed a diaper. It was pretty overwhelming.” — Sean O’Hair, on his first trip to the Masters.