Whether somebody understands the full depth of Tiger Woods’ greatness, it’s Ernie Els.
Els, the 52-year-old South African, was one of golf’s biggest stars for most of Woods’ career. His 19 PGA Tour victories and four major championships made him one of the preeminent players of his 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 diminished. due to Woods’ 82 wins and 15 majors. But as the Big Easy approach their post-player career, they hold no resentment over Tiger’s dominance, even though it came at Els’ expense.
“What an experience, isn’t it? Els told hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz on this week’s episode of GOLF’s Subpar. “Colt, you played in the Tiger era. The thing that appealed to me the most, what separated Tiger from us, the only real factor was his intensity on the first tee.
According to Els, there have always been players who have approached Tiger’s skill level, but the real differentiator – the thing that made Tiger Tiger — was his competitive spirit.
And as proof? Els says look no further than the first five holes of any round of golf.
“You know, you just want to get in the round, test the competitive waters. Many of us are like that, but Tiger? He was different,” Els said. “On the first tee, he was ready to go. he was ready to absolutely strangle the golf course and then take to the field and really clinch the tournament.
This perspective changed the way Tiger approached competition, and it also changed the way his opponents viewed themselves.
“He wasn’t there to mess around. He didn’t play too many events, but when he played he was ready to go,” Els said. “His eyes on the practice putting green, he was absolutely focused on his job, and that’s one thing that separated him then and still separates him today. You can just feel his aura to compete.
After a quarter century in golf, Els considers himself lucky to have witnessed Tiger’s greatness from a distance. And if that greatness came at the expense of Els in terms of wins, it’s certainly doesn’t affect it financially.
“If Tiger wasn’t around, I definitely would have won more golf tournaments, but I wouldn’t have won that much money,” Els says. “When I came to the Tour, Corey Pavin was the first guy to make over a million dollars in a season, and now look where he’s gone. When Tiger came in 1997, we were still at the 2 million mark on the stock market, and bang, it just exploded. The world came along and the PGA Tour got stronger and stronger. And so yeah, it put a lot of money in people’s pockets.
It’s a big part of what makes it easy for Ernie Els to say he’s grateful to Tiger Woods. His life and career are better off for Tiger, though very often his psyche suffers.
This guy was just a fucking machine.
“His quest for victory, his quest for excellence throughout the event,” Els said. “There have been tournaments where we played the first two rounds together and then we played the last two rounds together. Going straight to the 72nd hole competing against him is asking a lot of you…
This guy was just a fucking machine,” Els continued. “He still is. When he plays, he is there to win.
And that, says Els, is the one universal truth of Tiger Woods’ greatness.
“With his 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 course,” Els said. “What a guy, and what a time to try and beat him.”