Woods frightens rivals by vowing to improve

As the man with the biggest bank balance in sport and the finest winning record in golf, Tiger Woods was entitled to impart some advice to his nearest pursuers here yesterday. To Ernie Els he declared "keep improving", while to David Beckham he said "keep earning". Both should take it the right way.

As a good friend, Els will, of course, as he tries at last to get one over on the world No 1 in this week's Desert Classic. And Beckham should, too, because this particular "casual follower" of LA Galaxy was in fact giving his blessing to the sportsman who may be about to challenge Woods' fame in his homeland.

"No doubt about it, there's a room for another sports star in the States, especially in Los Angeles," said Woods, who reportedly earns twice Beckham's weekly salary of £500,000. "We've lost two gridiron teams in the Rams and the Raiders and David's star quality will definitely raise the sport's profile. It's all out there for him."

Alas, his message to Els was not nearly as optimistic. When told that the South African has expressed his determination to usurp him as the world No 1, Woods said: "Well, tell him to keep improving. Because I'm going to." That notion is truly scary as not only has Woods won his past seven starts on the American Tour, but in all strokeplay tournaments since the US Open last June his worst performance is a tie for second.

Furthermore, the 31-year-old American is the defending champion on this Emirates Course having beaten one E Els Esq in a play-off last year.

"He's so far ahead of me right now," admitted Els, who has recovered from the knee injury that has plagued his past 18 months. "But I've got my goals and if I stay focused on them I know I can be a factor again. I feel re-energised. You know, I feel like climbing the hill again."

With Woods blocking him, some are suggesting this week will be more like a mountain. Els, and others such as Paul Casey and Colin Montgomerie, will begin the long ascent today.

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