Fantastic 4 Face Off Again

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The Big 3, they called Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson at last weeks Wachovia Championship.
 
Woods the No. 1 in the world; Singh the man most likely to surpass him; Mickelson the highest ranked player who currently holds a major title.
 
None won last week, though all briefly challenged on Sunday; and all finished inside the top 10.
 
This week should prove even more exciting, however, as the Big 3 becomes the Fantastic 4.
 
Following a three-week vacation at home, Ernie Els leaves the friendly confines of his south London estate to join Woods, Singh and Mickelson in the field for the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.
 
All four men have won this event: Els in 1995; Mickelson in 96; Woods in 97; Singh a year ago. And all have won at least once this season, as well.
 
It makes for great television, Els said Wednesday. But does it make for great competition?
 
Its rare that todays golf titans get together in a regular PGA Tour event.
 
They compete against one another in each of the four majors and in most of the World Golf Championship events. They also all show up ' assuming they are eligible ' for the limited and lucrative tournaments like the Mercedes Championships and Tour Championship.
 
But take Championship out of the title and you likely take at least one of them out of the field.
 
Aside from this years Players Championship, the last time this foursome appeared together in a regular PGA Tour event was the 2002 Memorial Tournament.
 
Theyve played aside one another six times at Bay Hill, three times at the Memorial, twice at the International, once in Phoenix, once at the Nissan Open, and now for the third time at the Byron Nelson.
 
In all, every tour event included as a professional, this will be the 69th time all four have been in the same field.
 
It began when the four qualified for the 1996 Tour Championship. None won the event, but of the four Els finished highest: Els, T6; Singh, T9; Mickelson, 12th; Woods, T21.
 
Since then, however, it has been a complete reversal of order, in terms of who has gotten the best of his biggest rivals.
 
Using a simple points system, where 4 points is given to the player who finishes highest among the four; 3 points to second; 2 to third; and 1 to whomever finishes fourth ' with ties equaling a share of points (for example, Vijay and Ernie would each get 2.5 points each for tying for second best finish), Tiger easily reigns supreme.
 
Woods would accrue 212 points; Mickelson would be second with 161 points; Singh third with 154.5; and Els fourth with 152.5.
 
Woods has beaten his contemporaries in 33 of their 68 previous head-to-head-to-head-to-head match-ups. Mickelson has been the solo top man 14 times; Els 12 times; Singh eight times; and Els and Singh once tied for top honors.
 
Of course, these guys dont really care if they beat each other yet still finish third, which Woods did the first two times all four got together for the Byron Nelson.
 
Wins are really the only thing that matter whenever any of these players enter a tournament. But when all four are in the field, it makes it that much more difficult a goal to accomplish ' unless youre talking about Tiger.
 
Woods has won 40 times in his PGA Tour career ' 20 of those have come with the three others in attendance.
 
By contrast, only three of Singhs 18 tour titles ' and none since the 2000 Masters ' have come at the expense of the three others; four of 13 for Els in his career, and four of 23 for Mickelson.
 
Yet, even when the Fantastic 4 is in action its proven unlikely that even two of them will battle one another for victory ' and even less likely that two of them will do so eyeing each other in the same group.
 
The epic duel between Phil and Ernie at this years Masters had Els finishing two groups ahead of the champion.
 
Similar was the case in the 2002 Masters and 2002 U.S. Open, both of which Woods beat Mickelson from a distance.
 
Most of Tigers 20 wins in this scenario ' 12 of 20, to be exact ' have come with at least one of the three others finishing inside the top 3. But, again, hes rarely had to beat them face-to-face.
 
In fact, when all four are in the field, there have been only five occasions when one has prevailed with another in his final-round pairing.
 
  • 2003 WGC-American Express Championship: Woods led Singh by two entering the final round. On the first tee, Woods says, Good Luck. Singh responds, Titleist 2. It was far more intense than exciting, as both men shot 2-over 72. Woods won; Singh tied for second.
     
  • 2001 Masters: Woods was one clear of Mickelson, while Els lurked three back. Mickelson, playing alongside Woods, remained one off the lead until a three-putt bogey at 16. Woods birdied the last to shoot 68, and defeat David Duval by two. Mickelson finished third after a 70. Els could only manage an even-par 72 and tied for sixth.
     
  • 2000 U.S. Open: Technically, Woods and Els played in the final twosome on Sunday. But they were miles ' and 10 strokes ' apart. The only drama was to see if Woods could become the first player to finish the Open double digits under par. He did, ending at 12 under, 15 strokes clear of second place Els and Miguel Angel Jiminez.
     
  • 2000 Tour Championship: The most competitive tournament in which these four have battled one another. Woods and Singh entered the final round tied for the lead, with Mickelson one back and Els trailing by three. Mickelson, who played the final round with Els, shot 66 to win by two over Woods, who had a 69 while paired with Singh. It marked just the third time that Woods had blown at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a tournament on the PGA or European tour. Its happened only once since. Els shot 69 to tie Singh (73) for third.
     
  • 1999 Memorial: Woods led Singh by two strokes heading to Sunday, and then held off the Fijian with a deft short game. Both men shot 69.
     
    On the flip side, there was last years British Open, where Woods and Singh were paired together in the penultimate group and neither prevailed.
     
    So, for the 69th time Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson will tee it up together in the same event on the PGA Tour. And judging by history, theres a better than 45-percent chance (31 out of 68 previous tournaments) that one of these four will win ' and a 29-percent chance (20 out of 68) that it will be Woods.
     
    Theres also a better-than-average chance that if one of the four does win, that he will have beat one of these rivals. Eighteen out of the 31 times that one of these players has won, at least one more has finished inside the top 3.
     
    Its just likely that he wont have to beat him head-to-head.
     
    And dont expect all four to be competitive.
     
    Only three times ' the 2002 Masters, 2000 Masters and 2000 Tour Championship ' have all four players finished inside the top 10.
     
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    Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - EDS Byron Nelson Championship