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It's hard to be Woods' rival, but Big Easy can do it

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003


David Duval came close, winning a British Open, but the Jacksonville fellow couldn't take Tiger Heat. He saw Double D melt down, a contender drizzling back among the golfing pack.

Surely, it seemed, Phil Mickelson would be the one. Power so prodigious. Deft short game. Gutsy flair. Outspoken desire.

But the Lefty mind, with repeated misjudgments, proved to be on a planet far removed from Woods Galaxy. Last week in San Diego, with The Man returning from knee surgery, Phil would flail as Tiger cruised.

In a continuing search for a historic, enthralling rivalry, we turn to The Big Easy, the gent from South Africa who might've been the most logical choice all along.

Ernie Els, more than Mickelson or Duval, has the package of controlled tee-ball smack, delicate touch and mental aplomb to challenge and, with a hint of regularity, beat the gifted, dominant Tiger Woods.

But we'll see.

At 33, Els has deep-dish major-championship abilities. Winner of the U.S. Open in 1994 and again in 1997, plus the British Open in the summer. He now shoulders up to Woods for what might at last be The Rivalry. Tiger's year is off to 1-for-1 splendor, but that's a short stack compared to the Els feast of '03.

Ernie is doing Tiger-like stuff. In five tournaments around the world, including two PGA Tour chances, Easy has won four times with a startling per-round average of 5 under par.

Woods has noticed. That's a sure thing, as the champ keeps eyes alert for legitimate contenders. It will add octane to Tiger's professional energies. This could make No. 1 even better.

It's all steering for Augusta.

These are two bright, admirable, well-spoken athletes and if their head-to-head scrimmage does evolve into the extraordinary, at the Masters in April with the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship to follow, it could deliver the biggest, hottest mano-a-mano charm ever.

More than Hogan-Snead.

Above even Nicklaus-Palmer.

It's still to be shown if Els, on a repetitive major basis, can consistently run astride of Woods. But the physical and mental capabilities are there, as well as a strong track record on the biggest of golfing stages.

If it's ever going to happen for Ernie, now is the time. He's six years older than Tiger. So, what if, between now and 2010, we could see Woods and Els in frequent sword-on-sword combat, with each winning four or five majors.

You had a shot, David.

Envy them, Lefty.

Ernie is king of Tiger chase.

HERE'S WHATEVER: We seldom recall him alongside Csonka, Griese, Warfield and Buoniconti from the unbeaten Dolphins, but Jim Del Gaizo was a member of Miami's unique 1972 bunch. After the University of Tampa, he also had brief NFL stops with the Packers and Giants. An obscure name from the past and a recent whatever happened? subject. Now comes an update direct from the old quarterback.

"After leaving Tampa (one of my favorite places in the world), playing with the Dolphins, living in Florida another 30 years, my wife and I moved to Boston for a business opportunity in 2001," Del Gaizo said in an e-mail.

"It was daunting to leave Florida but my life as a mortgage lender has worked out. It looks as I will be stuck with living in less-than-hospitable weather. I returned to Miami for 30th anniversary celebrations of the undefeated Dolphins. What a great time."

CHIP SHOTS: Maybe it doesn't matter to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones years ago Bill Parcells told reporters year ago, "Once the owner wants to coach, I'm out of there the next day." ... Winning a national championship is terrific, but I'm more impressed that Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel carries a 3.71 grade-point average in molecular genetics. ... Kansas City Star quotes Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel as saying, "Quarterbacks are like tea bags. You don't know what you've got until you put them into hot water." ... Wonder how many noticed Richie Incognito is a 285-pound lineman for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. ... Temple University is selling a bobblehead doll of John Chaney, a basketball coach not known for fashionable attire, so the wise old Owl told the Philadelphia Daily News, "Look at the back (of the doll); my butt doesn't look nice. I wear the most expensive clothes in the world and they make me look like a dog. I'm going to sue everybody who gets one (a doll)."

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