Els Woods Renew Rivalry in Dubai

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As the PGA Tour heads cross-continent and trades in one Swing for another, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els travel even farther to trade swings and renew their rivalry.
 
Woods and Els, the Nos. 1 and 3 players in the world, respectively, are in the field for this weeks stop on the European Tour, the Dubai Desert Classic (Live Thursday on TGC at 4:30 a.m. ET; Re-airs at 9:00 a.m and 8:30 p.m.).
 
The two worldly powerhouses were scheduled to both compete in this event a year ago, but the threat of war in the Middle East kept Woods away.
 
Els, however, made the trip, and nearly left with the first-place prize for the third time in his career.
 
With four titles already under his belt on the season, Els was poised to take No. 5. He held a share of the 54-hole lead at the Emirates Golf Club, but was ultimately overtaken by a streaking Robert-Jan Derksen, who birdied the final hole for a final-round 65 and a one-stroke victory.
 
Els has played this event six times, never finishing worse than eighth, and winning in 1994 and 2002.
 
Woods is making his second visit to the United Arab Emirates. He finished runner-up to Thomas Bjorn in 2001.
 
While Vijay Singh has surpassed Els for second place on the Official World Golf Ranking, the South African has been the chief rival to Woods over the last five years.
 
It all started when Tiger won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes, and Ernie responded by capturing his second U.S. Open.
 
The following year, Woods rallied from eight strokes down to defeat Els in a playoff at the Johnnie Walker Classic.
 
Els exacted a bit of revenge a couple of months later, winning Bay Hill on a 36-hole Sunday in which he bettered Woods head-to-head by 13 strokes.
 
But since then, its been pretty much a one-sided affair.
 
In 2000, Woods beat Els in a playoff to start the year at the Mercedes Championships. He went on to win three majors that season, while Els finished runner-up the same number of times.
 
Els failed to win in 2001; Woods won five times, including the Masters.
 
The following season, Els reentered the winners circle, holding off a late-charging Woods to win at Doral, and then earned his third major championship at the British Open, where Woods wasnt a factor.
 
There was great anticipation for a revival in the rivalry last year, when Els won twice on both the PGA and European tours, mostly while Woods was recovering from off-season knee surgery.
 
But when Woods returned, he did so forcefully.
 
Tiger won three of his first four tournaments played, and five overall on the PGA Tour en route to being named Player of the Year for the fifth straight season. Els, meanwhile, injured his wrist prior to the Bay Hill Invitational and failed to win again the U.S. ' though, he did win three more times overseas.
 
They faced each other in a Sunday singles match in the Presidents Cup, which was easily won by Woods, 4 and 3, on Els native South African soil.
 
Embarrassed by the home loss, Els redeemed himself and again sparked talk of a rivalry when he challenged Woods shot-for-shot in the three-hole sudden-death playoff that ensued.
 
For the record, Woods and Els have played in the same tournament 51 times since the beginning of the 2000 season. Woods has finished higher in 37 of those events, winning 20 to Els 2.
 
No. 52 will take place in Dubai, where Woods is arriving fresh off his repeat victory in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Els skipped the event to stay with his family in London.
 
The two headline the field, but are not the only big names in attendance.
 
The field includes Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, 1996 winner Colin Montgomerie, Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Mark OMeara.
 
Thirteen players from last weeks Match Play event are competing.
 
The purse is $2 million. There has never been a repeat winner in the 14 years of this event. Bjorn holds the tournament record with a 22-under-par 266 in 2001. Els owns the course record of 61.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Dubai Desert Classic