Woods drove us to great­ness, the Big Easy and Lefty ad­mit

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

TIGER Woods’s decade-long grip on golf cur­tailed the am­bi­tions of many of the top play­ers in his gen­er­a­tion, but Phil Mick­el­son and Ernie Els have more rea­son than most to feel ag­grieved.

The pair will be­come the 13th and 14th play­ers to com­pete in at least 100 Ma­jors when they reach the cen­tury mark at the PGA Cham­pi­onship be­gin­ning to­day.

They are the sec­ond and third most suc­cess­ful play­ers of their gen­er­a­tion – Mick­el­son with five Ma­jor vic­to­ries and Els with four – but their achieve­ments have been over­shad­owed by Woods, win­ner of 14 Ma­jors be­tween 1997 and 2008.

On Tues­day, two days be­fore the start of the fi­nal Ma­jor of the year, both Amer­ica’s Mick­el­son and South Africa’s Els were able to re­flect on how full their tro­phy cab­i­nets might be if Woods had taken up another sport.

Els had al­ready won one Ma­jor – the 1994 US Open – by the time Woods burst onto the scene and blew away the field by 12 shots at the 1997 Masters, a per­for­mance that jolted the South African’s con­fi­dence.

“I was ready to win quite a few (Ma­jors) and then when Tiger came in ‘97, and him win­ning the Masters in the way he did, that kind of threw me off a lit­tle bit,” Els said at Quail Hol­low, venue for this week’s PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“I thought I was re­ally one of the top play­ers, which I was, but that was a pretty spe­cial dis­play of golf.”

Els re­grouped and won the 1997 US Open two months later, but then fin­ished run­ner-up to his neme­sis Woods in con­sec­u­tive Ma­jors in 2000.

“I had quite a few run-ins with him in Ma­jors,” Els said. “It wasn’t re­ally very close, but I fin­ished sec­ond to him many times.

“Per­son­ally, I could have ob­vi­ously won a cou­ple more, with­out him around, but he’s so spe­cial, and he ab­so­lutely changed the game. He got us to re­ally el­e­vate our games, brought so much more at­ten­tion to the sport, and ob­vi­ously a lot more dol­lars to play for. So, we’ve got to thank him.”

Mick­el­son searched for the pos­i­tives rather than dwell on what might have been. “Had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed my­self to achieve what I ended up achiev­ing, be­cause he forced ev­ery­body to get the best out of them­selves,” said the 47-year-old Cal­i­for­nian.

While Mick­el­son has one PGA Cham­pi­onship vic­tory, in 2005, Els is still seek­ing his first, but he has not given up. “It’s hard to be­lieve maybe for you guys that at 47 I’ve still got the hunger for it, but I re­ally do,” he said.

“I haven’t played my best in the last cou­ple of years, so I’m re­ally in the process of re­build­ing my game and get­ting my­self go­ing again.”

Mick­el­son, mean­while, said he was still en­joy­ing the chal­lenge of try­ing to beat the world’s best.

“For me, golf has al­ways been very ther­a­peu­tic,” he said. “It’s been a great way to calm my mind and have a great di­rec­tion and some­thing to fo­cus on. It’s been a huge part of my life ever since I was a cou­ple of years old.”

There are six other South Africans in the field. They are Richard Sterne, Bran­don Stone, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Bran­den Grace and Dy­lan Frit­telli. – Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.