Charl Schwartzel has been looking up to Ernie Els for as long as he has been around golf.
Schwartzel was a toddler when his father and Els played together in a team event they won at a local club in South Africa. He remembers going to his first golf tournament, the Million Dollar Challenge, to watch the Big Easy. He even became an affiliate member of Els’s foundation, traveling with the team of junior golfers.
“He was like my big hero,’’ Schwartzel said yesterday.
The dynamics have changed dramatically at the CA Championship just outside Miami.
His hero now stands in the way of Schwartzel shining on a world stage.
Schwartzel ran off four birdies in the opening six holes, and the 25-year-old South African stayed in the game with three big par putts on the back nine for a 5-under-par 67. Els, a three-time major champion with 60 victories worldwide, made a few soft mistakes and had to settle for a 2-under 70 to join Schwartzel in a tie for the lead at 12-under 204.
Els has rarely been so desperate to win. He is coming off a season in which he failed to win anywhere in the world for the first time since he was a 20-year-old playing his first full year as a pro.
He has rarely been so pleased with a guy he is trying to beat.
“I think it’s a wonderful, cool story,’’ Els said. “It’s great for South African golf, obviously. A 25-year-old really making his mark this year. He’s won twice. He’s a force to be reckoned with. And I think it’s great.
“Tomorrow, we shake hands and play 18 holes as hard as we can. He’s going to try and win. I’m going to try and win.’’
It will be an all-South African final pairing, three weeks after another World Golf Championship event produced an all-England pairing in the final of the Match Play Championship. Only in this case, there are loads of other possibilities.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who had downplayed his chances most of the week, ran off four birdies on the back nine only to have his streak of 26 holes without a bogey end with a three-putt on the 18th. He still had a 67 and was one shot behind.
Robert Allenby, somehow, remains in the mix. The Australian missed eight putts from inside 15 feet and was falling out of contention until two late birdies allowed him to salvage a 1-under 71, leaving him only two shots behind. Bob Hope Classic champion Bill Haas nearly holed his final shot on the 18th for a tap-in birdie and a 70. He was three shots behind.
PGA — Chad Collins eagled the par-5 second hole to top the Puerto Rico Open leaderboard at 9 under before second-round play was suspended because of darkness in the rain-delayed PGA Tour event in Rio Grande. Collins, who has won twice on the Nationwide Tour, was 6 under through 11 holes.
LPGA — Four-time champion Karrie Webb shot a bogey-free 3-under 70 to take a one-stroke lead in the Women’s Australian Open in Melbourne.