Yes any understands the full depth of the greatness of Tiger Woods, he is Ernie Els.
Els, the 52-year-old South African, has been one of golf’s biggest stars for most of Woods’ career. Her 19 PGA Tour wins and four major championships have made him one of the standout players of her era, and one of Woods’ great training partners.
Of course, those numbers are dwarfed by Tiger’s 82 pro wins and 15 major championships, and maybe even dwarfed. because Woods’ 82 wins and 15 majors. But as Big Easy approaches his post-game run, he bears no resentment toward Tiger’s dominance, even if it came at Els’ expense.
“What an experience, right?” Els told hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz on this week’s episode of GOLF’s Subpar. “Colt, you have played in the Tiger era. The thing that excites me the most, the thing that separated Tiger from us, the only real factor, was the intensity of him on the first tee.”
As Els sees it, there were always players who came close to Tiger’s skill level, but the real differentiator, what made Tiger Tiger — was his competitive spirit.
And as for the test? Els says don’t look beyond the first five holes of any round of golf.
“You know, you just want to get into the round, test the waters of the competition. Many of us are like that, but Tiger? It was different,” Els said. “On the first tee, he was ready to play. he was ready to absolutely throttle the golf course and then get on the course eventually and really bring the tournament down.”
That perspective changed the way Tiger approached the competition and also changed the way his opponents viewed themselves.
“He wasn’t there to waste time. He didn’t play too many events, but when he played, he was ready to play,” Els said. “His eyes on him on the practice green, he was absolutely focused on his work, and that’s something that separated him then and still separates him today. You can feel the aura from him to compete.”
After a quarter-century in golf, Els considers himself lucky to have witnessed Tiger’s greatness from spitting distance. And if that greatness came at the expense of Els in terms of wins, certainly No affect you financially.
“If Tiger wasn’t around, I definitely would have won more golf tournaments, but I wouldn’t have made as much money,” says Els. “When I came on Tour, Corey Pavin was the first man to earn more than a million dollars in a season, and now, he looks at where he’s gone. When Tiger came along in ’97, we were still at the $2 million mark, and bang, it just blew up. The world came in and the PGA Tour went from strength to strength. And yes, he put a lot of money in people’s pockets.”
That’s a big part of what makes it easy for Ernie Els to say he’s grateful for Tiger Woods. Her life and his career are better for Tiger, even if very often, his psyche suffered.
This guy was just a fucking machine.
“His quest to win, his quest for excellence throughout the event,” Els said. “There were tournaments where we played the first two rounds together and then we played the last two together. Entering directly into the 72nd hole competing against him requires a lot from you…
This guy was just a fucking machine,” Els continued. “Still is. When he plays, he is there to win.”
And that, says Els, is the universal truth of the greatness of Tiger Woods.
“With the injuries, he is half the man he was. But he’s out there and he’s going to find a way to try and beat you on the field,” Els said. “What a guy, and what a time to try and beat him.”