PHOENIX — Ernie Els opened with four birdies in five holes and never really slowed until he finished with an 8-under 63 for a two-shot lead Thursday in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
The 35-man field at Phoenix Country Club effectively is playing for second place in Schwab Cup points race. Steve Stricker, who won six times this year, clinched it before the postseason even began and then had to withdraw from the PGA Tour Champions finale.
Stricker said his father was admitted to the hospital in Wisconsin on Monday afternoon and he felt it was best to stay with his family.
Stricker is assured the $1 million bonus. Els can actually top that this week with a victory because $528,000 goes to the winner of the tournament and second in the Schwab Cup is worth $500,000.
“Obviously, we want to finish off on a positive note,” Els said. “Steve did his thing winning the Charles Schwab Cup this year. There’s a lot to play for, take some real confidence out of this last event. The golf course is fantastic so it kind of forces you to bring your game. If you put it in play, you can get a score going, so I was concentrating on that.
“Let’s see what happens at the end of the week.”
Bernhard Langer, who came into the tournament No. 2 on the points list, overcame three straight bogeys in the middle of his round to birdie the last two holes for a 68. Langer has won twice this year, surpassing Hale Irwin‘s record for most senior victories.
Els matched his best score on the PGA Tour Champions, also posting a 63 in the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in the final round at the end of the year.
“Love to get a trophy at the end of the year,” Els said. “We’ve got a long way to go. I don’t think I’m going to think about it maybe until Sunday afternoon if I’m in contention, but just to play good this week and try to finish off a pretty steady year would be great.”