Golf: Tiger stands in way of Els

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The Independent Online
ERNIE ELS has the chance to replace Tiger Woods as the world No 1 by winning his second tournament in a week at the US Players' Championship, which starts here today.

While Woods works on peaking for the US Masters in two weeks' time, Els showed he is already in prime form by winning the Bay Hill Invitational last week, outscoring Woods by 12 strokes over the final two rounds.

But Els insisted: "Tiger should be regarded as the best player in the world. I am right up there and there are a lot of other players right up there, but his record is awfully good. I think you can only judge how good a player he is by his performances in the big championships like the majors and this tournament."

The 25th Players tournament has a first prize of $720,000 (pounds 445,000) and one of the best fields of the year. Its only drawback is that the first "official" major of the year follows in a fortnight.

That is not a problem for Colin Montgomerie, who has a better record at the TPC at Sawgrass than at Augusta National. Monty was second to Fred Couples two years ago and has not been worse than 14th in the last four years. "This is as major a golf tournament as it gets," Montgomerie said. "I don't know who classifies these things, but if there were five majors this would be the fifth. There are certain shots that have to be hit on this course, and that plays into my hands."

A suggestion from John Daly for Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller, whose crass remarks about the Masters champion created a racial controversy that is still rumbling, to play a practice round at Augusta got a cautious welcome from Woods.

"It would be more of a public relations thing," Woods said. "I will be getting ready for a major. If Fuzzy wants to get ready for a major with me that's fine."