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Els & Woods team up in Battle at the Bridges

Ernie Els has seen Tiger Woods make up an eight-shot deficit in one day to win in Thailand. He was along for the ride when Woods turned a 10-shot lead into a record 15-shot victory at Pebble Beach.

No duel was more spectacular than Woods and Els slugging it out at Kapalua, exchanging birdies and eagles -- not to mention the lead seven times -- in a final round that ended with Woods making a miracle putt to win on the second extra hole.

The next Tiger sighting might be the most comforting of all for the Big Easy.

Finally, they're on the same team.

"We compete week in and week out, in the Presidents Cup, on the Tour and in the major championships," Els said. "It will be great to play with him. I don't think we've ever had a chance to play together."

Woods and Els, the best two players in the world will team up against Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia in the "Battle at the Bridges," the fifth installment of Monday Night Golf.

ABC Sports will televise the best-ball match live at 8 p.m. ET from the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive course in the foothills about 30 minutes north of San Diego.

The prime-time exhibition began in 1999 with Woods and David Duval, golf's two best players at the time, going head-to-head at Sherwood Country Club.

The next three versions were played at Bighorn in the California desert under a variety of formats -- Woods vs. Garcia; a mixed-team event with Woods, Duval, Annika Sörenstam and Karrie Webb; a generational clash with Woods, Garcia, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

There are no gimmicks this time, just four of the best players in the world. And while the novelty of the made-for-TV event has worn off, it still offers Woods in prime time.

"There's a lot of very unoriginal, original programming on and here's an option," ABC announcer Mike Tirico said. "You can watch live sporting events on TV or you can watch 'Who Wants to Marry my Dad?'

"Given those choices, the thing works pretty well."

The event, sponsored by Lincoln Financial, pays $1.2 million to the winning team from a $1.7 million purse.

Mickelson figures to have the hometown crowd behind him because he lives in the secluded community and is a regular at the Bridges. He and Garcia will be the decided underdogs, particularly since neither has won a Tournament this year.

Woods and Els have combined for nine victories worldwide this year.

They are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, and Els has offered the most promise as a rival to Woods throughout the years. They also have a comfortable friendship that began at Royal Lytham & St. Annes at the 1996 British Open.

Els was the runner-up and Woods was low amateur, and the two retreated to the clubhouse after the closing ceremony. Woods quizzed the Big Easy about life on Tour as he debated whether to turn pro or return to Stanford.

"We were sitting there talking, and I remember him saying he doesn't know what he wants to do, whether to turn pro or stay in school," Els said. "I told him he was good enough to turn pro. He did, and the rest is history."

Woods won twice in his first seven PGA Tour events, captured the Masters with a record score (270) by a record margin (12 strokes) in 1997 and has left everyone, Els included, in a massive wake.

Els has finished second to Woods six times -- twice as much as any other player -- and at times has been exasperated in a futile attempt to catch him.

The biggest blows were inflicted in 2000, starting with the season-opening Mercedes Championships on Maui.

In one of the most captivating duels, neither player led by more than a stroke at any time in the final round. Els matched Woods' eagle on the 18th hole to force a playoff, Woods then matched Els' birdie to extend the playoff, and Woods finally won with a 40-foot birdie putt that was downhill, into the grain and had 6 feet of break.

"I think he's a legend in the making," Els said at the time. "He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s."

Woods went on to beat Els by five strokes at the Memorial, 15 strokes at the U.S. Open and eight strokes at the British Open.

Still, their relationship has remained strong, and so has their respect for each other.

"We've always had a good relationship," Els said. "I've seen him grow into a man now. He's the best player on the planet by some distance. But he hasn't changed much in all these years. That says quite a lot for him."

The competition remains fierce even when they're worlds apart.

Woods was in the locker room at Torrey Pines in February, watching Els win in Australia by 10 strokes for his fourth victory in five events. Then, Woods went out and won the Buick Invitational by four shots in his first Tournament since knee surgery.

For one night, they can put their rivalry aside.


 

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