Woods' dynamism denies Els in play-off

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The Independent Online

Els certainly portrayed a ruffled look as he crouched over the drive on the first extra hole that was soon to head, calamitously, for the trees. Maybe the South African was simply mindful of Woods's incredible play-off record of having contested 13 and lost just the once (when he was just a cub in the 1998 Nissan Open to Billy Mayfair).

Or was the defending champion merely remembering his own sudden-death deficit to the nemesis who has now stared him down three times? Whatever, when Woods hit the back of the par-five green from the centre of the fairway, and Els found the lake with his hit-or-bust second, it was all over bar the gloating. Not that there was any of that from Woods, this most humble of winners, after making his record for 2006 read "played two, won two".

"Somehow I got lucky," he said, just as he had after the Buick Invitational play-off the week before and however gracious this admission, it merely summed up what everyone else was thinking. As the Emirates Course emptied, after a quite wonderful four days, the only question hanging in the sultry air was: "How one earth did he win that?" Because, for long periods of the day, it seemed the only thing the 30-year-old would be breaking was his driver and not 70. He really was that wayward.

Consider that from the sixth he missed the green six times in succession and you might approximate the awfulness of it all. But apart from the opening hole of that dismal stretch he managed to save par from a number of "impossible" positions to stay in touch. The most miraculous was undoubtedly the 14th when he found the hazard on the right, took a penalty drop into a right snorter of a lie surrounded by rocks, somehow found the green with a sand-wedge and holed it from 18 feet. Was this Tiger, or was this Seve? It was Tiger all right. For while the Spaniard would have had to fight his fallibility to the very end, the 10-times major winner only had to do battle until he had sorted it all out.

That he could so with two holes of normal play left - that is, when he had to - merely sums up the sheer class of the man. "I had to find a solution and I did," he said, before outlining a technical adjustment that he alone understood. "It was rather like Augusta last year." Then, of course, he produced his best two shots of an error-strewn finish to deny Chris DiMarco - you guessed it, in a play-off - and Els felt similarly comforted that he had just been beaten by the best, especially as he is still in the process of returning from a four-month absence with a knee injury. "I cannot complain," said the 36-year-old. "To come back and almost win in the strongest field of the year so far... well, that's fine."

The South African's fourth Dubai title had looked in jeopardy when his playing partner, the Australian left-hander Richard Green suddenly slipped one ahead after his third successive birdie on the 17th, and even more so when Tiger fearlessly took out his driver on that penultimate hole's tee and located the green some 359 yards away.

Rather inevitably, though, Green dropped away with a sweaty-palmed bogey and, even more inevitably, Els coolly birdied to reclaim the lead with his 19-under total.

But, 10 minutes later, Woods's nerveless chip to hole-side from the deep rough at the back of that final green informed Els there was more to do. Alas, it was too much, but then it has proved so for everyone. Except for old Billy, of course.