Els and Woods play mind games in the sun

The further we disciples followed the progress of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els here yesterday the more the realisation dawned that the illustrious pair might not actually be showing us the path to the promised land.

As the humidity intensified and the clouds began to collect ominously, so did potential challengers to the pair's presumed dominance of this tournament. Beads of sweat began to appear on the defending champion's orange polo shirt. Surely not evidence that he had become aware of the increasingly congested leaderboard, which revealed that that the mercurial Sergio Garcia was closing on him with astonishing rapidity, followed by the Spaniard's playing partner, Jim Furyk? They would be followed by a host of others as, intriguingly, figures such as Angel Cabrera and Chris DiMarco offered evidence of their Championship credentials.

Perish the thought. Even without performing at the zenith of his powers, Woods retained control of his destiny. For all that this tournament transformed itself from a parched wilderness to a lush savannah in which considerably more than a lone Tiger and Springbok roam, we should probably not permit our imagination to run riot.

Woods starts today where he began yesterday, atop the leaderboard. With an impeccable sense of timing and composure, he recaptured the lead with a birdie at the last hole, after Els had been frustratingly close to doing the same for the first occasion. Both finished with a one-under-par 71.

It leaves the American once again master of all he surveys. And he is not a front-runner who comprehends the concept of capitulation. He has prevailed in all six of the majors he has led at the halfway stage, and all of his 10 major titles have been achieved when he has led with a round to play.

What yesterday did confirm was that the world No 1 had been been correct in his admonishment "we got a long way to go, man" when, on Friday, some were conveying him prematurely to his enthronement. What followed that second round, which contained an eagle two at the par-four 14th which had the men and women of Merseyside rising in the kind of raucous acclamation usually reserved for their footballing élite, was a timely reminder for those delving for superlatives with which to reanoint the king, of how capricious the old game can be.

Woods may have established a then course-record score in round two, but Els decreed that such a performance provided him with motivation rather than intimidation, despite conditions which had marginally deteriorated. As Friday progressed, it was no mirage in the heatwave but a posse, led by the South African, who was magnificent and relentless in his pursuit, with Woods in their sights.

Thus we were presented with what appeared to be the tantalising prospect of a confrontation to the death between two leviathans. DiMarco and Retief Goosen had also muscled into contention, but the belief was that only the ultimate victor would be left standing.

It was gladiatorial, not just physically, but in a battle of minds, and there was no doubting at whom the spectators, who strained their necks like meerkats to obtain a glimpse of the pair ­ the defending champion, Woods, and the 2002 winner, Els, who had both recorded 65 on Friday ­ principally directed their roars of allegiance as they set out.

It was not so much antipathy for Woods; rather it was a desire that this should remain competitive entering the final day, though one always suspected that those who anticipated a "Duel in the Sun" to challenge that at Turnberry in 1977, when Jack Nicklaus took a bullet to the heart from Tom Watson, the five-times champion, were guilty of somewhat overinflating the grandeur of the meeting.

So it transpired, on an afternoon in which Woods once again kept his driver in the bag. He has employed it just once during the tournament. "My strategy is what it is," he said. "You can't alter it. I hit the ball beautifully but didn't putt well." Els, who should perhaps have received a new epithet, The Big Uneasy, was equally dissatisfied. "I was out of sorts. But for my putter, I would have been out of contention."

Perhaps that wasn't entirely unexpected. Both these matinee idols' seasons have undergone a certain amount of reconstruction: the South African having had knee surgery 11 months ago following a jet-ski injury in the Mediterranean; the American's psyche presumably still requiring some emotional repair following the death of his father and mentor, Earl.

Certainly, it was by no means an auspicious start for Els, whose three majors reduce him to a mere mortal when compared with Woods' 10.

The man from Johannesburg went for glory after driving into the left rough off the tee, but instead found a greenside bunker short of the flag. Yet the character with the lumbering gait who looks as he strides down the fairway as though he has just returned from felling a redwood, was insouciance itself as he chomped on an apple and gently swivelled his hips as he waited for Woods to play.

Els spurned a putt for par and went to 10 under as his rival only narrowly failed with a putt which would have gifted him a birdie. Woods had to accept a par which established a two-stroke advantage.

Els swiftly atoned for that poorly judged opening hole in the best way possible; a birdie from 30 feet on the second. He briefly shared the lead as Woods bogeyed after an indifferent approach which ended up in sand and well short of the green.

Those two holes reflected their afternoons; yet satisfyingly for the uncommitted it left the eventual identity of the 2006 champion more impossible to predict by the minute ­ even if the tournament leader still burns bright.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam