Supreme Woods in a class of his own, admits Els

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am

'Tiger's such a great player. He's really found a way to win majors'

Tiger Woods' discipline and focus, never mind his talent, make him almost impossible to beat, says Ernie Els. And Els should know as he was one of the few players who came close to grabbing Tiger's tail in the final round of the British Open.

Els thinks Woods has a lock on the secret of winning majors.

But for a fleeting moment, it looked as if the South African, known as 'The Big Easy', was going to ruin Woods' emotional day at the Royal Liverpool course.

Els rolled in a five-foot putt at the fifth hole to draw even with the defending champion and make the rest of the golf world believe Woods could be caught.

Within minutes, Woods shattered that idea with a 25-foot eagle putt that gave him a two-shot lead. He went on to win by that margin, picking up his second straight British title, and third overall, as well as an 11th major championship.

'He had a game plan and he stuck to it,' said Els, whose two-under 71 gave him third place with a 13-under 275. 'At times I didn't think it was the right plan because he's so long off the tee he could have hit very short irons at some of the holes. But he stuck to his plan.

'He knows how to win these things and it's going to be tough to beat him now. I had to shoot 60-nothing today. Competing against a guy like Tiger is really tough. He's such a great player. He's really found a way to win majors.'

The victory was Woods' first title since his father died in May.

Els started the final round a stroke behind Woods and, with three major victories, was considered one of the most likely to challenge.

Although he was the only player to draw even with Woods during the final round, realistically Els never got close. While Woods had answers to every challenge - notably from second-place finisher Chris DiMarco, who got within a stroke at the 13th - Els was unable to get back into contention.

'It got away from me at eight, nine, 10, 11,' he said. 'In that four-hole stretch, which is not a very tough stretch, I made two bogeys instead of two birdies. I had half a chance but Tiger played great.'

Every time DiMarco got close, the leader responded, too.

'Hey Tiger,' DiMarco said, 'would you give me a little chance for once?'

When Woods set off on a run of three straight birdies at number 14, it was over.

'He's a hard guy to catch, I'll tell you that,' DiMarco said. 'He's got an uncanny ability when someone gets close to him to just turn it up to another level. I made a great putt on 14 for par, which really pumped me up, and he turns around and birdies 14, 15 and 16. If you can't get up for playing the best player in the world, I don't know what else there is. It pumps me up. I know Tiger said one of the greatest things ever. He said being in contention in a major or any other tournament is like a drug. And it is. It is our drug.'

Woods said DiMarco's surge had demanded his best in response. 'He just kept putting pressure on me,' Woods said. 'I just had to continue to try to be patient, make birdies whenever I could.'

Woods wept when his victory was complete. After his final putt dropped, Woods showed a rare burst of emotion, burying his head into the shoulder of caddie Steve Williams, then sharing a long, tear-filled hug with his wife, Elin.

'I'm kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on,' Woods said. 'But at that moment, it just came pouring out. And of all the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf, I just wish he would have seen it one more time. I was pretty bummed out after not winning the Masters because I knew that was the last major he was ever going to see.'