After switching driver head and shaft, Ernie Els shoots 63 to open Charles Schwab Cup Championship

PHOENIX — Ernie Els has turned it on down the stretch of this season. Now let’s see if he can close.

Els has gone T-4, T-3, T-7 and T-4 in the last four tournaments on the PGA Tour Champions. A bogey-free, 8-under 63 has staked him to a two-shot lead after 18 holes at Phoenix Country Club at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

“Hopefully, I have this feeling again tomorrow and days to come,” he said after his round. “I’ve been playing half-decent the last three, four weeks so I know I’m coming in with a little bit of game. Hey, we’ve all got to tick away until Sunday and hopefully I’m in contention Sunday and hopefully we can have something good happen.”

There are 35 golfers in this 72-hole, no-cut event after 2023’s best player, Steve Stricker, withdrew before the tournament started. He already locked up the season-long championship so Els is looking to make the most of a week in which everyone is fighting for second.

He told Golf Channel’s Phil Blackmar some equipment changes are panning out so far.

“I thought the last week of the year I’m going to try something new, so I put a little lighter shaft in my driver and I actually went with a different driver head from XXIO,” Els said.

The other pre-tournament favorites this week have some ground to make up already. Defending Schwab Cup champion Steven Alker shot 67 and is four back, Bernhard Langer posted a 68, five back, and defending tournament champion Padraig Harrington shot 69, six back.

“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.”

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