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July 22, 2002

Els' win or Tiger's loss?
By Dan Patrick

Ernie Els battled through four playoff holes and sudden death to win the British Open in dramatic fashion Sunday. But was the feat overshadowed by the absence of Tiger Woods after his disastrous 10-over-par 81 on Saturday? Will the 2002 British Open be remembered for Tiger's loss instead of Els' win?

Ernie Els
Winning the largest playoff in British Open history was worth the 23 holes Ernie Els had to put in Sunday.

After all, psychologically, removing Tiger from the equation gave Els an advantage, right? Nothing against Stuart Appleby, Thomas Levet or Steve Elkington, but they didn't exactly represent the upper tier of golf. They made mistakes, as did Els, but Els recovered from his to win.

Certainly, you can factor in the inclement weather, but everyone played in the same conditions. Majors consist of four days and four rounds, each day bringing its own conditions and challenges. It's a question of survival, and Els survived -- this time.

The fact remains that we're still looking for someone to stand up head-to-head against Tiger, on the back nine, on the final day. While I don't doubt Els' talent to be a formidable foe, I'm not sure he has the go-for-the-jugular approach to be considered more than a bump in Tiger's path.

You need more than pure talent to compete with Tiger. You have to be prepared both mentally and physically for the challenge. While Els has the swing and facial expressions down, he lacks the demeanor, the stare-down mentality that makes Tiger perhaps the best golfer to ever play the game. If Tiger is the slaughterhouse, Els is the sheep.

Old-school golfers have openly criticized today's golfers for succumbing to the belief that Tiger is that much better. Els, who has admitted to seeing a psychologist to rid himself of a defeatist attitude, may honestly believe that Tiger is that good.

Tiger is still the player to beat. Despite his worst day of professional golf in a major, Tiger came back Sunday to show what he's all about, shooting a 65. He's still favored to win the PGA Championship.

To compete with Tiger you have to have the talent and mind-set, not one without the other. Tiger doesn't give out hall passes. Right now, I think Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson are the only other players who have both.

That said, while Els may not have the mentality to accompany the talent, he does have one thing the others don't -- this year's Claret Jug.

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