Golf: Els in ascendant over rival Woods

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BACK in 1992, a young South African was paired with Arnold Palmer for two rounds of the USPGA Championship. They both missed the cut, but Ernie Els was impressive enough for Palmer to invite him to his own tournament, the Bay Hill Invitational, the following year.

They were paired together again, with Els taking some locker-room ribbing as he missed the cut and Palmer made it. What Palmer could see in Els was the potential to play the power-based "modern game", in the South African's phrase, at its finest.

Els did just that on Sunday as he saw off two other exponents of the modern game in Tiger Woods and Davis Love to win Palmer's tournament. The two Americans had started the day tied for the lead, but straggled in 10 and 11 shots, respectively, behind the winner.

If his afternoon 73, after a double-bogey at the short second, was cast in a defensive mould as Els maintained a four-stroke advantage over Jeff Maggert and Bob Estes, it was his morning 65 that swept away the challenges of his rivals.

In making up 12 strokes on the world No 1 Woods on the day, Els, second in the rankings, eradicated the memory of the Masters champion making up 11 shots over the last two rounds in the Johnnie Walker Classic in January. "I wasn't looking for revenge after Thailand," Els said. But, boy, was he annoyed.

"I didn't play well and I know I should have won," Els added. "I thought about it for a week. It never really goes away. At least it was at the start of the year, not in a major championship or anything.

"I knew I had to get going pretty quick this morning. To play 36 holes with two of the best players in the world and win was a good feeling. Tiger and Davis can just turn it on at will, but it didn't happen."

Asked about any rivalry between Woods and himself, Els mentioned a few other good young players. "Rivalry, what rivalry?" is Woods' standard reply, but Els did admit: "We are probably going to feel it more now."

At the top of their games, Woods and Els are the best around, and it is by no means certain that the American will end up with the most gongs over the long haul.

With two wins this year and six top-three finishes in eight events, Els has found the perfect vein of form to challenge the supremacy Woods established at the Masters last year. Before that comes the Players' Championship this week and Woods will be seeking a long session with his coach before it starts.

Three Europeans, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood after finishing fourth, eighth and 13th respectively, will move on in good heart.

Quite what John Daly will get up to next is anyone's guess, but isn't it always? In a microcosm of his career and life, Daly played one hole in 18, 13 over par with six balls in the water, and the next in two.

Laura Davies relinquished her hold on the LPGA Standard Register Classic title she had held for four years with a final-round 69 to finish six shots adrift of the leaders on 285. The Swede Liselotte Neumann sank a birdie on the third play-off hole to defeat the American Rosie Jones and pocket the pounds 77,914 winner's cheque at Phoenix, Arizona.