Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Woods, Els tee up for showdown at Royal St. George's

AP , SANDWICH, ENGLAND

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els have everything it takes to form a major rivalry except for one critical piece -- a Sunday showdown at a major golf championship.

Royal St. George's might be the perfect place to start.

Woods, without a major trophy for the first time in four years, shot down any suggestions he was in a slump two weeks ago by going wire-to-wire for a five-stroke victory in the Western Open, his fourth victory of the season.

Els responded by leading from start to finish to win by five strokes at the Scottish Open last week at Loch Lomond, his fifth victory of the year.

They arrived at the British Open on top of their games, a collision long overdue.

Might this finally be the week?

"Yeah, I think so," Els said Tuesday. "Tiger is playing really well. And I think from all the press he's getting -- not winning a major in a year, which I think is ridiculous -- I think he's going to try to prove something and have a good week.

"I'm looking for a good week. I've been playing well," Els said. "Hopefully, it happens. I feel really good about this week. We'll just wait and see."

The prospect of Woods vs. Els has been brewing since the beginning of the year.

The Big Easy won the first two PGA Tour events in Hawaii, then added two more victories in Australia as Woods was recovering from surgery on his left knee.

Woods returned from an eight-week layoff by winning three of his four tournaments.

But the majors?

Those belonged to Mike Weir (Masters) and Jim Furyk (US Open).

Woods finished out of the top 10 in both of them, falling out of contention with a bad swing at Augusta National and a bad third round at Olympia Fields.

"You're not going to win every one, but at least you can give yourself a chance on Sunday," Woods said. "That's one of the things I haven't been able to do."

Els finished better than Woods in both majors, although he was never a factor, either. Part of that was due to a sore wrist from working out with a punching bag.

"I'm feeling physically as good as I've ever been," Els said. "My rhythm has come back nicely. My short game is good. My long game is good. There's no reason why I shouldn't be playing well now."

Els is the defending champion at the British Open, having survived a four-man playoff that required five holes last year at Muirfield. Still, he knows he's not the player everyone is chasing on the lunarlike landscape of Royal St. George's.

"Other players are getting better," Els said. "But Tiger is still there."

For Woods, there has been a revolving door of rivals since he crashed onto the PGA Tour with his 12-stroke victory in the 1997 Masters -- Els, David Duval, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, and back to Els.

Even though seven players have won at least twice this year, the gap remains.

"After the first couple of majors this year, you would feel that the players are closing on Tiger, wouldn't you?" Nick Faldo said. "But I'm sure Tiger is more than aware of that. He's going to make a big effort this week."

Woods, as usual, won't be baited into a rivalry -- not even with Els, a close friend.

"There are more than just the two of us playing the event," he said. "If you were playing a match-play event, just he and I, one-on-one, that's a different story."

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