Els Win Shows Golf Is No One-Man Show

BETHESDA, Maryland -- There are a lot of reasons why it will be difficult for Tiger Woods to simply overwhelm the competition -- and Ernie Els is one of them.

The sweet-swinging South African proved once again Sunday he has the game and the mental makeup to be a major championship winner several times over.

The U.S. Open started last week at Congressional Country Club with talk of a Woods Grand Slam, and it ended with new appreciation for Els and even greater respect for the special demands of the Open.

Els had the patience, precision and putting to win on a course set up to meet the difficult standards of the U.S. Golf Association. Woods lacked all three.

By winning his second U.S. Open at only 27 years of age, Els joins a select group. In the 97 Opens there are now only five players who have won more than Els.

Hale Irwin won three times, while Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus share the record with four.

In fact, Els' performance in major championships proves he has the kind of game that holds up under the most intense pressure. He has now finished in the top 10 nine times in Grand Slam events and has been in the top 20 a dozen times in the 20 majors he had played in his career.

"I believe this is possibly the toughest one of them all to win mentally,'' Colin Montgomerie said after finishing a stroke behind Els. "And he seems to have it. He's won two.''

The thick rough that lines the fairways at a U.S. Open and grows right up to the edge of the greens puts a premium on accuracy. A ball even inches off the fairway or a yard off the green can cost a stroke.

In fact, statistics showed that each ball hit into the rough at this U.S. Open cost players a half-stroke.

But Els hit 43 of 56 fairways during the tournament -- 13th best -- and 52 of 72 greens, tied for best in the field.

Woods, however, lacked that calm. Several times when he strayed into the rough he tried to be too aggressive with his recovery shot, going for the green instead of pitching back to the fairway, as most players were doing. Such play resulted in three double bogeys in the tournament and numerous bogeys.

"I will tell you this,'' said Woods, who finished 10 strokes behind Els. "I did make some mental mistakes out there that I will rectify so I'll never make them again.''

Woods does have a sharp learning curve and there is every reason to believe he will build on this Open.

If Els presents a challenge to Woods' effort to dominate golf, several other factors also emerged at the Open.

Els is merely one of a fine group of young players who will be around for a while: Stewart Cink (24), Jim Furyk (27), Paul Stankowski (27) and Tommy Tolles (30) all finished in the top 20 at the Open.

This Open proved that Tiger Woods will have enough challengers to make it interesting.