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Golf's big three already out in front

Only three tournaments into the 2005 USPGA season and already modern golf's 'big three' - Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els - have proved just how far ahead of the rest of the best they are.

All three have already banked over one million dollars in earnings, with Woods top of the money list on 1,214,000 dollars after his come from behind win on Sunday at the Buick Invitional.

It is the first time Woods has headed the US money list in 16 months.

For the 29-year-old world number two it was an end to his 'drought' on the tour. His previous tour stroke play win had been way back at the 2003 American Express Championship.

Pushing Woods is the man who took over his mantle as world number one. Singh, winner of the Sony Open almost two weeks ago, has pocketed 1,114,213 dollars.

Singh could only manage a share of 24th spot on Sunday after shooting a closing 75. It was the first time the Fijian had not finished in the top ten since he displaced Woods as world number one last September.

Els, ranked third in the world, has yet to win this year but a third, a second and a sixth placed finish last Sunday, has swollen his bank account this year in the United States to 1,018,640 dollars.

Some observers have suggested that the 'big three' should be extended to the 'big five' with the inclusion of Retief Goosen, four in the world, and current Masters champion Phil Mickelson, ranked fifth.

But if money is the judge, Goosen and Mickelson don't even come close - at least so far.

Two-time US Open champion Goosen has played two out of the opening three events, finishing 13th in the Mercedes Championship season opener and 56th in the Sony Open to win 120,608 dollars, over a million dollars behind Woods.

Mickelson, who since his dismal performance in the Ryder Cup last autumn, is looking to refind his Augusta form, decided to start his season at the Buick.

The left-hander has won his first tournament of the season five times and was keen to make that six.

But Mickelson, a previous winner of the Buick on the course where he played most of his early golf, found any such hopes dashed when he carded a third round 78.

In the end Mickelson finished 56th and his winnings of 10,656 dollars will not have covered his expenses for the week.

Woods' win on Sunday will have send a chilling reminder to Els and Singh, as well as the rest, of just how good he can be.

Ugly his win may have been as the rest of the field, including overnight leader US Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, shot themselves in the foot.

Even Woods almost threw it away when with a one-shot lead coming to the last, he hit a terrible 2-iron.

"I absolutely whiffed it," admitted Woods. "I won because I hung in there better. I wasn't feeling comfortable with my swing. But I was just king of grinding around. I relied on my short game, which was beautiful."

Lehman understood just how good Woods' win was.

"He whipped the field playing lousy. I give him a lot of credit," said Lehman, who was attempting to become the first active Ryder Cup captain to win on Tour since Jack Nicklaus in 1986 when he won the Masters.

As the 'big three' underline their dominance all it needs now for Els to score an early victory and it threatens to be 'game, set, and match' for the pretenders.


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