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Els Woods Renew Rivalry at Bay Hill

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ernie Els is going for his third straight victory. Tiger Woods is vying for his third consecutive Bay Hill title. One of those streaks has to give this week; and with a black-tie field in Orlando, it may be both.
 
Woods and Els headline the Bay Hill Invitational, which boasts a field consisting of eight of the top-10 ranked players in the world.
 
History ' both recent and removed ' suggest that both of these men will be in contention come Sunday.
 
I think Ernie and I have probably gone down the stretch more times than any other player that Ive played against, said Woods, who has personally made Els a runner-up on six occasions. Ive got him a couple of times and hes got me a couple of times.
 
Woods is the two-time defending champion. He entered last years event winless on the PGA Tour over a span of eight starts. He does the same in 2002.
 
Els, on the other hand, has won each of the past two weeks. First, he ended an 18-month victory drought on tour by winning the Genuity Championship ' holding off a hard-charging Tiger in the process.
 
Els then made the 15 -hour flight from Miami to the United Arab Emirates to win the Dubai Desert Classic. Another 17-hour flight later, and the travel-weary South African is back in the Sunshine State.
 
The jet-lag coming back this way is not that bad, said Els, who also captured the Heineken Classic in Australia in February. I had a lot of jet-lag last week.
 
It didnt seem to matter. But thats the way its been lately for Els. Nothing seems to affect him. He flies halfway around the world and dismisses the field. Tiger claws at his back and he brushes him aside.
 
The 1998 Bay Hill champion has climbed back to No. 3 in the world, and hes beginning to feel like No. 1.
 
(My success) has been a combination of attitude and a lot of hard work on the range, a lot of hard work off the golf course, trying to stay in shape, he said. I think its just been a combination of those three things.
 
You know, finally its starting to pay off now. So, were in March and weve got a long way to go, but Im really looking forward to every week I play now.
 
That enthusiasm has helped keep Els in the present, which is important with the seasons first major looming on the horizon.
 
Im more focused in what Im doing at the moment, rather than, you know, just channel all my energy into Augusta, which is a month away, Els said.
 
Woods, likewise, is trying to concentrate on the task at hand, though the Masters is on everyones mind. A year ago, it was: Can Tiger win his fourth straight major? Now, its: What do you think of the dramatic course changes?
 
Click to read about the Augusta National alterations
 
I like the changes, what they have done, said the 1997 and 2001 Masters champion. I like how they have now made driving a priority, not just hitting second shots, and, obviously, putting, but now youve got to get the ball in play.
 
Els agreed.
 
I played it about three weeks ago. I cant fault anything they have done there, he said. It really just plays into the hands of anybody that can hit the ball far.
 
i.e., Els and Woods.
 
Accurate, yet long drives will also be a premium this week on the 7,239-yard Bay Hill course. Players will have to find the fairway ' the closer to the green the better ' in order to have any chance of attacking the renovated greens.
 
The greens are really firm, as firm as Ive ever seen them, Els said.
 
Added Woods: The greens are completely different a lot more difficult. Theres no doubt about it.
 
Tougher conditions only aid the world's best players, making another Tiger-Ernie showdown more likely.
 
'I always like to get in a position where I can play him down the stretch,' said Woods, 'because it is a lot of fun.'
 
Full field and tee times for the Bay Hill Invitational