G-Mac in Masters plea for ‘hero’ Els
GRAEME McDOWELL made an impassioned plea last night for Ernie Els to be given a special invitation to next week's US Masters.
Els must win the Shell Houston Open on Sunday if he is not to miss the Masters for the first time in 18 years as a professional.
South Africa's hugely popular three-time Major champion needed to finish third alone at worst at Bay Hill last Sunday to make it back into the world's elite top 50 before that evening's Masters cut-off.
Given the difficulty he has had sealing the deal with his new belly putter in recent times, Els hardly can be fancied to finish ahead of a powerful field at Redstone this week, prompting McDowell to make a strong appeal to the Augusta National tournament committee on his behalf.
"When a guy like Ernie Els misses a Major, it's obviously disappointing," said the 2010 US Open champion.
"He was one of my heroes in the '90s when he was winning his US Opens. He's a quality player and he has given it (qualification) a great run the last couple of weeks."
Pointing to Augusta National's recent decision to hand a second special exemption to Japanese superstar Ryo Ishikawa, McDowell said he understood why an invitation would be offered to a player of such massive popular and commercial appeal in Asia.
TV viewing figures for the Masters will soar because of Ishikawa's presence, helping "expand the tournament's global reach" as Augusta national chairman Billy Payne recently explained.
"I understand why the Masters committee made their decision and they're perfectly entitled to do so," said McDowell.
"Yet Ernie Els has to be a strong candidate. Surely the Green Jackets have discussed him at length and decided for whatever reason that he doesn't deserve an invitation.
"I think if you took a poll among the players as to guys who deserve the invite, he'd be top of the list, that's for sure. The idea of him not being there is disappointing, a blow for the field."
The Portrush man, second only to Tiger Woods last Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, then added with a smile: "I was going to say, 'let's hope he wins this week', but I'm planning to compete myself."
Like McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington also complete their final preparations for the Masters in Houston, where Ulster's 2011 British Open champion confirmed that caddie Phil 'Wobbly' Mobrey has agreed to work for him full-time.
Harrington, who tied eighth at Houston last season, could be a surprise package this week if he recaptures the scintillating scoring form he showed during his career-best first-round 61 at Transitions. All the Dubliner needs is to find enough consistency to build confidence in his putter.
Seventeen years after they faced each other in sudden death in the 1995 Open at St Andrews, John Daly and Costantino Rocca are playing partners again today at the Sicilian Open.
Rocca is now 55 and plays nearly all his golf on the Seniors Tour, but 45-year-old Daly is still striving to get back into the big time.
And, no longer a full member of the PGA Tour, he has been travelling the world to try to do it.
After the promise of fourth place at the Qatar Masters early last month, the American then injured his elbow in India. He was 51st on his return to action at the Transitions Championship in Florida two weeks ago, but last Friday missed the halfway cut at the Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
"Seems like yesterday," he said of his 1995 clash with Rocca.
Matteo Manassero was two years old when Daly pipped Rocca in sudden death to claim his second Major title on the Old Course -- yet the 18-year-old Italian is hotly fancied to make up for last Sunday's disappointment in Agadir by claiming his third European Tour title on Sunday.
Like Els, Manassero needed to win last Sunday at the King Hassan Trophy to qualify for the Masters. Though he went into the final round tied for the lead with Damien McGrane, he slumped into sixth place behind winner Michael Hoey.
Hoey and Morocco runner-up McGrane take a break this week, leaving Clara's 2009 Irish Open champion Shane Lowry as the top-ranked member of the six Irishmen in action this week at Sicily's spectacular Verdura Golf and Spa Resort.
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