Eye on the Tiger
By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun
GEORGE, South Africa -- It has been one of Ernie Els' finest seasons as a professional, yet he will be unable to truly savour it until and unless he does one thing. Beat Tiger Woods.
Els has won more golf purse money around the globe than in any previous year. Had he limited himself to North America, he certainly would have been among the leading candidates for player of the year.
Yet several times he has had the chance to face Woods square on and failed to respond in any of those opportunities.
He's hoping this Presidents Cup, on his home turf, will provide him with one more chance to slay that dragon. In fact, he's rather sure of it.
While International Team captain Gary Player denies that there has been any behind-the-scenes negotiating with his U.S. counterpart, Jack Nicklaus, to engineer a Woods/Els pairing in the Sunday singles matches, Els has a different take on it.
"It is set in concrete," Els said last week.
Els, who arrived Sunday at The Links at Fancourt where the fifth edition of the Presidents Cup will be played this week, elaborated on what he hopes will unfold.
"The International Team needs to play with spirit and I guess you could say they've come to my house so there's a lot that's expected of me," he said.
"I think Tiger and I will probably play each other in the singles on the final day."
Player has talked in general terms with his 12 golfers about tactics and pairings and has promised to listen to them. Unlike the Ryder Cup, where match play pairings are submitted on paper by each team and then matched up according to the order in which they're listed, the Presidents Cup allows for more freedom of choice.
The captains alternately declare names and the opposing captain is able to respond with a pairing he hopes matches up. That way, both teams will get some matches they believe match up in their favour.
"As much as a Woods-Els final in the singles would be exciting, many would argue that Vijay Singh versus Woods, given their history and current world status, would be equally good," said Player, who designed the 7,508-yard, par-73 behemoth on the outskirts of George, 300 kilometres east of Cape Town near the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Els not only has his Tiger obsession to deal with, but his 2000 Presidents Cup record -- an exercise in flawless futility -- to overcome. Els was 0-for-5 in Virginia during the past Presidents Cup and is acutely aware of it.
Woods, for his part, hasn't commented on the notion of a match against Els but there's little doubting his commitment to this event. In 2000, he led the Americans to a convincing 21 1/2-10 1/2 victory, winning three matches. He was the first of the 12 Americans on this year's team to arrive at Fancourt to get ready. He was on the course both Sunday and yesterday and has declared the course "awesome."
If there is going to be a singles match with some edge, Player might dispense with Els-Woods and connive to replace it with Singh-Woods. Woods and Singh don't have much use for each other, an attitude that dates back to the Sunday matches at the Presidents Cup in 2000.
Singh's caddie arrived that day with a cap emblazoned with the words "Tiger Who?"
"As much as a Woods-Els match in the final would be exciting," Player said, "many would argue that Vijay versus Woods, given their history and their current world ranking status would be equally good.
Perhaps, since Woods is No. 1 and Singh has darted past Els to become No. 2, but this is South Africa and the public here is slavering to have their big gun get into the ring against Woods.
By nightfall yesterday, only a handful of players on each team had arrived, with the remainder scheduled to begin work as a team today. That includes Canadian Mike Weir, who was a dynamic force in his first Presidents Cup in 2000, as the only International player with a winning record (3-2).
It is a long, long way from Monday to Sunday at a tension-packed event like this. But here in South Africa, poised to hold the most important golf event in the country's history, they're dreaming big.
Their boys -- Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini -- pulled an upset win at the World Cup last weekend. Yet even that singular accomplishment couldn't hold a candle to an Els win over Woods, especially if the Cup itself was on the line.