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Tiger Woods & Ernie Els resume battle at Riviera

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els resume their rivalry in this week's Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club, a tournament and venue where both players have experienced golfing highs and lows.

World number one Woods has never won the event, despite finishing second twice and in the top 10 four times.

In 1998, when the tournament was held at Valencia Country Club, he was beaten in a playoff by fellow American Billy Mayfair. It remains the only playoff out of 14 worldwide that Woods has lost.

South African Els won the 1999 Nissan Open at Riviera, holding off the challenge of Woods, Davis Love III and another American, Ted Tryba, by two strokes.

Four years earlier, however, Els wasted a golden opportunity to clinch the U.S. PGA Championship there. He had forged three strokes clear going into the final round before slipping back into a share of third with a closing 72.

"I felt like I should have won that one, to be honest with you," twice U.S. Open winner Els said on his official website earlier this week.

Australia's Steve Elkington went on to claim the U.S. PGA Championship crown at Riviera that year, beating Britain's Colin Montgomerie in a playoff.

"The good thing is I'll be coming back here with a lot of good rounds in my memory bank, so I'm really looking forward to it," added world number four Els.

"We've got a really strong field and Riviera Country Club is a great golf course, with a lot of history. It's a golf course that I enjoy playing.

"It's my first appearance in the Nissan since 2000 and it's a good way to start the season."

Els, edged out by Woods in a playoff for the Dubai Desert Classic nine days ago, will be making his first appearance on the PGA Tour since last year's U.S. Open.

He was sidelined from the game for four months after twisting his knee on a family sailing holiday in the Mediterranean last July.

Woods, who took last week off following his Dubai success, arrives at Riviera in upbeat mood after three victories in his last three starts.

He won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan last November, his seventh title in 2005, before triumphing at the Buick Invitational in San Diego in late January.

"I'm getting a little sharper each day," Woods said in a U.S. Masters teleconference last week. "I know what I need to work on. My checklist isn't as long as it was last year at this time.

"Any time you can win, it's always going to give you a boost of confidence, especially coming off of last year. I had a wonderful year last year and then basically continued that type of success early into this year. It makes it really exciting for the future."

Woods, whose Dubai victory over Els extended his playoff record to 13 wins out of 14 worldwide, vividly recalls his Nissan loss to Mayfair in 1998.

"I had the honour off the tee and I hit just a terrible tee shot," he said. "Ended up making par and Billy made birdie from just short of the green.

"I had an opportunity to put pressure on Billy on my tee shot and I didn't do it. It ended up costing me an opportunity to win that tournament."

Woods and Els are among five of the world's top 10 playing at Riviera this week. Also competing are seventh-ranked Jim Furyk, Chris DiMarco (eighth) and 10th-ranked Australian Adam Scott, the defending champion.

Scott won last year's title after four days of heavy rain and just two rounds of competition, beating American Chad Campbell at the first extra hole.

His victory was worth $864,000 but did count as an official triumph, denying him the usual two-year PGA Tour exemption and a spot at the season-opening, winners-only Mercedes Championship in Hawaii.

February 15, 2006

 




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