MUIRFIELD, Scotland, AFP
A defiant Ernie Els insists he can put a halt to Tiger Woods bid to win his third major in a row as he goes for the Grand Slam.
The South African, who sneaked an early preview of the demanding Murifield links earlier this month, says trying to stop the world number one does not fill him with fear.
Els remained optimistic despite a disappointing warm-up for the Open when he finished tied for 50th place some 10 shots adrift of winner Eduardo Romero on Sunday.
“We all know how good Tiger is so he deserves to be a strong favorite for the Open. But you never go into any tournament accepting you are going to take a beating. It’s like being a boxer — do you stay on your stool or come out for the next round,” said Els.
“I’m a fighter and I know that if I get an opening I can take it, so I’ll always go out and put myself in a position where I can take my chances with Tiger — or anyone else.”
The 31-year old Els has had a good look at Woods as anyone on the circuit.
Two years ago Els twice finished runner-up to Woods as he swept to victory in both the British Open and U.S. Open with a devastating display of golf.
But Els insists that while he may have been knocked down he has not been knocked out.
“I’ve had a couple of knocks but I’ve won a couple of US Opens and been close in plenty more majors so I know I’m capable of winning at Muirfield.
“It’s not like I’ve never beaten Tiger. I haven’t done it as often as I would have liked — who has? But there is no time like the Open.
“I played Muirfield last week and it’s just as I remembered it. It’s a shot makers course rather than one that favors the long hitters. So I’d say there are as many as 30 players in with a shout this week. It certainly isn’t a one-man tournament,” explained Els.
“The course is set up beautifully. The RetA and the club have done a wonderful job in getting it to this condition. It is as fair a test as you can see,” he enthused.
“It looks narrow and daunting out there but it is so well designed and the layout is so good you can run the ball into every hole — the way links golf is meant to be played.
“When I played last week it was what I would call a two-club wind although I suppose it was more of a strong breeze and with all the rain the course has had it was pretty testing.
“What we need now is a little bit of heat to dry the course out slightly and we will have a great championship,” added Els.
Nick Faldo, who won two of his three Open titles here, agrees that the course needs a break from the rain that has damped Scotland’s attempt at having a summer.
Like Els, Faldo took a look at the course last week.
“I just had to come and remind myself of the course and of the subtlies of links golf,” he said.
“The course is exactly the way I remember it, just a lot greener, It’s not very linksy at the moment but who knows? A few days of sun and wind would soon fix that.
“I think it’s essential to play a links course before tackling the Open and to get back into the way of playing links golf.”