PGA MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS

Els making it look easy at Kapalua


Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Ernie Els continued his assault on the par 5s at Kapalua and wound up with another comfortable lead in the Mercedes Championships.

Now all he has to do is finish it off.

Els rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt on the final hole for an 8-under 65 to break the 36-hole tournament record at 17-under 129. More importantly, he built a three-stroke lead over Bob Estes going into the weekend of the season-opening event.

Els had a four-stroke lead at this point two years ago, but a mental lapse on Saturday cost him momentum, and a few bad swings cost him a chance at winning.

The Big Easy has shown no chinks through two gorgeous days on the Plantation Course, especially on the par 5s.

He made his third eagle of the tournament by chipping in on No. 9, and has played the par 5s in 11-under par through two rounds.

Estes had another bogey-free round for a 66, leaving him at 132 and in the final group Saturday with Els.

K.J. Choi of South Korea, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour last year, had his second straight 67 and was alone in third at 134, followed by the trio of Retief Goosen (65), Jerry Kelly (70) and Chris Riley (70).

Riley and Els appeared to separate themselves from the pack by matching great shots on another tame day along the rugged and spectacular coastline of western Maui.

Riley played in the group ahead of Els, and chipped in from just about the same spot on the par-5 ninth for eagle, putting him at 13 under and momentarily in the lead.

But he couldn't keep pace.

  • NOTE: Chris Riley is among those on the PGA Tour who won't have to worry about the severe new penalties for slow play.

    He had a tricky, 3-foot par putt on the seventh hole Thursday at Kapalua. Riley crouched over to read the line, stood over the ball and knocked it in. The entire process took no more than 15 seconds.

    Of course, this is nothing new.

    His junior golf buddy - Tiger Woods - used to get on him for playing too quickly.

    ``He always tells a story about how he was trying to read a putt from me,'' Riley said. ``The next thing he knows, he turns around and I'm already done.''

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