Els praises Tiger's 'totally different talent'

By Andy Farrell
Thursday 26 December 2013 05:28
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If certain people are to be believed, and they do happen to be among the greatest players the game has produced, the security guard who blocked Tiger Woods' path here yesterday put up more resistance than some of his fellow competitors might come the end of the 131st Open Championship this weekend.

Woods arrived here contemplating the unthinkable, hoping to win what would prove to be the third leg of a Grand Slam. At the Masters in April and the US Open last month no one was able to get in the 26-year-old's way. Attempting to enter the driving range prior to his 6.30am practice round, Woods was halted by a woman security guard who demanded to see his player's badge.

They always said it would be a woman who would prove his downfall. "Who is she, where is she and how much can we pay her?" joked Nick Faldo before realising what he had said. "Not in that sense," he added, before thinking further. "Maybe in that sense. We've got to wear him out somehow, haven't we? Not that I think he will get sidetracked. I'd be very surprised. His goal is to go out and do these great things and then worry about everything else later."

Jesper Parnevik's plan to introduce Woods to one of his Swedish nannies, Elin Nordegren, appears to have backfired. The couple have been together since March but he only extended his dominance over the rest of the field at Augusta and Bethpage. Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer have all suggested his rivals are not up to scratch. This has not gone down well with the likes of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and David Duval, last year's Open champion at Lytham.

"If it wasn't for one guy," said Els, "I think Mickelson would have had two or three majors by now. David would have probably won a couple of Masters titles and, who knows, I could have won four or five majors. This guy is a totally different talent than the world has ever seen. In a way I'm kind of glad I'm playing at this time and in another way I'm unhappy about it."

Els has been a repeat offender in finishing runner-up to Woods. "You can beat the field but it doesn't mean you're going to beat Tiger," he added. "He's going for the Grand Slam. You know he's going to be in contention this week. When you are playing in a major tournament now you play the course, and you play Tiger. It seems like he is there every time. He is such a veteran now, even if he is not playing very well, he's still going to be there. If he is five behind, there's always the feeling he can get something going on Sunday."

As for the greats of past generations, Els said: "The game has changed. Equipment has changed but the players have too. Guys are fit and strong, you don't see many fat bellies out there. Those great players would have been as good today but would they have beaten Tiger? There is a big question mark there."

Faldo, who thinks Woods will surpass Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles, said of Tiger's rivals: "I'm sure inside they are trying as hard as they can. But Tiger is definitely a step above everybody else." Woods played his customary early-morning practice round on a day when the sunshine and a healthy breeze did its best to firm up what is currently a verdant pasture of a links. Usually, Woods likes to get out when there are few people around but the security here is ever-present. A spokesman for the security company denied the guard failed to recognise one of the most famous sports people on the planet.

"It wasn't because he wasn't recognised. It was because he wasn't showing his player's identity badge," he said. "We don't allow anyone entry without that whether you're David Beckham or Tiger Woods. If he shows up again tomorrow without his badge we'll deny him entry again. I reckon he won't make the mistake again." He rarely makes any mistake twice.

Paul Aizinger, the man parred into defeat by Faldo at Muirfield in 1987, has withdrawn from this championship. Aizinger, who played well enough last year to earn a wild-card call-up from Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange, said he had a "minor injury" that would not allow him to play.

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