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Golf

Els is always a bridesmaid

Despite passing Tiger Woods in the world rankings, he still is No. 2, now behind Vijay Singh.

By BOB HARIG
Published October 7, 2004

The pursuit has been long and exhausting and at times depressing. It even caused Ernie Els to question his fortitude.

Finally, Els passed Tiger Woods in the world ranking ... only to still be staring ahead at Vijay Singh.

"Yeah, it's nice, but I'm still No. 2," Els said on Sunday after winning the American Express Championship in Ireland. "I've been chasing Tiger for the last five, six years, and now it seems like I've got to chase Vijay."

That chase will continue the next two weeks in Europe and could be a big theme in three weeks when both players are expected to be in the field for the Chrysler Championship at the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor.

Els long ago committed to the $5-million tournament and Singh, who is bidding to become the first in more than 50 years to win 10 PGA Tour events in a season, is expected to return to the event in which he finished second to Retief Goosen a year ago.

"Retief Goosen might be one of the last people who stared Vijay down and beat him," said Gerald Goodman, tournament director of the Chrysler Championship. "It would be nice to have that going for us."

The Chrysler Championship, which begins on Oct. 28, is shaping up nicely, with four of the top seven players in the world committed.

Although Woods is not expected to play, the tournament is still hoping for a commitment from No. 4 Phil Mickelson, who won the Masters this year. That could mean the tournament gets all four major championship winners: Mickelson, No. 5 Goosen (U.S. Open), Todd Hamilton (British Open) and Singh (PGA Championship).

But one of the more intriguing battles that week could be for No. 1.

Singh took over the top spot from Woods last month after he won the Deutsche Bank Championship. Els, who could have been No. 1 earlier this year had he won the British Open (lost in a playoff) or PGA Championship (missed a playoff by one stroke), moved past Woods after his third PGA Tour victory of the year and fourth overall worldwide on Sunday.

"The game is on, well and truly," Els said. "Vijay has won eight times. I've won four times. So it's kind of interesting."

Els was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1997, the year he won the second of his two U.S. Open titles. Two years later, Woods took over No. 1 after winning the PGA Championship and had such a stranglehold on it that some wondered if he would ever be passed. It became particularly frustrating to Els, who finished runnerup at three majors in 2000 - once to Singh and twice to Woods.

The World Ranking is compiled using a complicated formula that gives players ranking points for their finishes in tournaments. Those points are influenced by the strength of the field.

At the moment, Singh leads with an average ranking of 14.14, followed by Els at 12.48 and Woods at 11.54. To show how dominant Woods once was, he had a ranking average of 15.72 at the end of the 2002 season. The next closest was Mickelson at 7.72.

The points accumulate over two years, with more weight given to the current season. So when high finishes or even victories are not replaced by a similar result, a player loses ground.

"When I had that five-year run when I won five-plus tournaments a year for five straight years, I was going to be No. 1 in the world because I was winning a lot," Woods, who has just one win this year, said last week in Ireland. "That's how you earn No. 1 and that's how you stay there."

Singh got close to Woods this year when he won back-to-back tournaments in Houston and New Orleans. Then, Singh said, he worried too much about the rankings and went nearly three months before winning again. Now he's on a roll, having won three straight and five of his past six.

Els, meanwhile, had close calls at all four major championships this year, losing by a shot to Mickelson at the Masters, finishing ninth at the U.S. Open after trailing Goosen by just two heading into the final round, losing to Hamilton in a British Open playoff and then missing a playoff by a stroke at the PGA.

"I just feel I'm really in a much better frame of mind right now," Els said. "Right after the last major, it took me a couple of weeks to really get my thought process settled down or worked out. I was still very, very disappointed ... but I feel different now."

Singh and Els are playing in this week's Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. They head opposite brackets at next week's World Match Play Championship in England. Then Singh defends his title in the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World while Els takes the week off. They are then expected to play the Chrysler Championship and the Tour Championship to end the season.

It could be an interesting battle for No. 1.

[Last modified October 7, 2004, 00:30:24]


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