GOLF: Els told to rest and may miss defence of US Open

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The Independent Online
ERNIE ELS, who is due to defend his US Open title in San Francisco this week, had his hopes of a quick fix to the back problems which forced him out of the Buick Classic after nine holes on Thursday dashed by a visit to specialist Tom Boers in Columbus, Georgia on Friday.

Boers, who has treated Fred Couples, Davis Love, Phil Mickelson and many other stars from the US Tour, worked with the South African for 90 minutes. But hewas only able to offer rest as a cure for the back spasms Els has been suffering for the last three weeks.

"It's not good news," Boers said. "Ernie's back is still very much a problem. It's still too early to tell," he added of Els' chances of teeing up on Thursday at the Olympic Club.

Back problems will be getting a lot of attention this week as Tiger Woods missed his last tournament, the Kemper Open, to have treatment from his physio in Las Vegas. Two of the hottest players on the US Tour, Fred Couples and Davis Love, also have lumber trouble.

Love, winner of the USPGA at Winged Foot last August, was so concerned about the state of his back that he hired a private jet to fly across the country last night from Westchester to San Francisco. That allowed him to break the journey at his leisure. Love, who recommended Els visit Boers, says he cannot sit at a dinner table for more than 45 minutes.

Robert Baker, Els' coach, remained at Westchester over the weekend. "He just needs to rest it this weekend," Baker said, "but we're all keeping our fingers crossed for him."

With Els, winner for the last two years, absent a new name had to be added to the Buick Classic trophy. Jim Furyk, who scored an eight-under- par 63 late on Saturday, was joined at nine under by J. P. Hayes when the second round was finally completed yesterday morning.

Despite the threat of more of the thunderstorms which interrupted play on Friday and Saturday, the third round began with the players knowing the tournament had been reduced to 54 holes in an effort to complete the event and allow those playing in the US Open to depart for the west coast. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, a substantial number, 29, at the back of the field had already taken the decision to withdraw.

Lee Westwood, who began the round nine off the lead, immediately fell further behind when he took a double bogey at the par-three first. Westwood found a greenside bunker, took two shots to get out of the wet sand, and then missed from six feet.

Both Darren Clarke and Jose Maria Olazabal, who each started at the tenth, went to the turn in 33 but the only European to appear on the leaderboard was Jesper Parnevik. The Swede parred the first five holes to remain four off the lead but the biggest early mover was former Open champion Tom Lehman, who birdied four of the first seven holes.

l The Compaq European Grand Prix at Slaley Hall near Newcastle was abandoned yesterday when it was decided that no play would be possible after another deluge flooded the course. "Because we didn't complete 36 holes we do not have a result," said tournament director Mike Stewart.