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Johnnie Walker Classic,
Blue Canyon C. C.,
Phuket, Thailand
22th - 25th January 1998

Par 72 Prize Money 800,000

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Tiger roars past Els to win in Thailand

Phuket, Thailand, 25th January1998 - World number one Tiger Woods added another sensational chapter to his remarkable career story when he won a battle of major champions against Ernie Els on Sunday.

On a nerve-tingling last day, the U.S. Masters champion came from eight shots behind in the Johnnie Walker Classic with a 65, then beat South Africa's U.S. Open champion Els on the second hole of a playoff with a 15-foot birdie putt.

He had predicted he would win even when he trailed Els by 11 shots after two rounds.

"I've never done anything like this as a pro and I thought I'd need a 62 to win, so my comeback in the last round I didn't think was that amazing because I didn't think I could win,'' Woods said.

"But then Ernie and all the guys backed off."

After three indifferent rounds at the Blue Canyon club, Woods produced a thrilling seven-under-par 65, only one short of the course record as Els, leader for three days, faltered at the end to drop into a playoff as both finished on 279, nine under par.

Defending champion Els, who closed with a 73 after shooting 74 in the third round, had to sink a 15-foot birdie putt on the last in the final round just to get into a shootout before Woods's birdie at the second playoff hole earned him the 133,330 pounds ($222,000) first prize.

Woods needed a five-foot save at the first sudden-death hole, the 18th, but then showed his vastly improved form in the final round was no fluke as he won the battle by sinking his birdie putt on the same hole for victory.

It was the 22-year-old Woods' eighth professional success in only 17 months, including his four U.S wins last year as he earned more than $2 million prize money.

A closing nine of 31, five under par allowed Woods to set a target which must have intimidated Els, who struggled badly coming home with three bogeys including dropped shots on 16 and 17.

The pair finished a stroke ahead of another South African, Retief Goosen, but it was one of the players a further shot behind who also threw away the chance of victory to let in Woods.

Australian Peter O'Malley was 10-under and one ahead of the field going to the 17th but double-bogeyed the par-three and drove into a lake to bogey the last.

Chinese New Year celebrates the Year of the Tiger and his stunning feat could be an omen for the start of the year, it was suggested.

"It's really just another year. It just happens to have my name on it," said the American, who punched the air in excitement as he finished off the world number three.

"When Ernie bogeyed the 17th and hit his second on the 18th I decided not to even practice because I'd had his putt earlier and didn't think there was any way he'd make it.

"I was in the clubhouse, but when it went in I immediately bolted for the practice tee. Then when I got there they didn't have any practice balls right away. I only had chance to hit a few sand irons and eight irons and five drivers.

"I made sure I hit the last three as hard as I could to get the nervous energy out of me, but I was pretty pumped up at the first playoff hole. I hit a real big drive and then went over the green."

"I then kinda hung in there by sinking the par putt. It was mighty important."

Delighted at his victory, Woods looked forward to the four majors again. "It's nice to win but I want my game to be peaking for all the majors," he added.

"When you look at all the great players, that's what they all focused on. It's hard to keep your game for all four but they did it and I want to."

"The whole idea is to keep getting better each year and I'd love to win every time I go out. But if I improve every year it will be a great career and that's what I'm striving for."

"Last year I had some faults and put them right and this week has finally paid dividends for doing that."

Els acknowledged he had thrown it away after leading on 12-under through only two rounds.

"It all started to go wrong at the 16th in regulation play where I three-putted," he said. "I went through the green on the 17th and hit a poor chip."

"The birdie at the last was the only putt I've made over the last two days. The rest is history."

"I had chance on Saturday to close it but didn't keep it going but it was really amazing what Tiger did."

"But I should never have found myself in a playoff. I wouldn't have been if I had played half decent over the closing holes today. But what the hell."


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