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Golf: Els has no fear of looking into eyes of the Tiger; THE OPEN 2006.

Byline: By Neil Cameron

ERNIE ELS hadn't even started his second round yesterday when Tiger Woods walked off the 18th having posted what many saw as an uncatchable lead.

But nobody told the South African that.

When Els looked at the top of the leaderboard before he hit his first dive of the day, he didn't see the Claret Jug in the hands of Woods and a weekend of playing for second place. All he saw was a challenge.

And it was a challenge he took up quite brilliantly.

Els was the one man who stood up to the plate and produced a string of birdies and his best performance in a Major since knee surgery just under a year ago.

While the other later starters struggled to shoot the low scores seen earlier, the South African put together a phenomenal round of 65 to match Woods and third-placed Chris DiMarco to put him just one shot off the lead.

Els said: "I saw Tiger's score and obviously he's a great player but my feeling was that there were birdies to be made and I would have to go and get my share.

"I felt good in the warm-up and was swinging the club well.

"When I saw what Tiger had done, I knew I would need a good, solid round. I didn't think I'd shoot 65 but knew I would need something in the 60s.

"I'm just happy to be in this position. I wanted to be in the final group and get close to Tiger because as we all know, he is a pretty good front-runner. I didn't want to be too far away.

"He is the great player of our generation but I can only do my own thing and hope to stay there.

"What I do know is that at the end we will shake hands.

"I really enjoyed myself today. I played the course quite conservatively at times, however, when I needed to be aggressive, I was. I timed it well today. Once I got on a roll, I didn't want to back down."

For so long it was Els who sat at No.2 in the world beside Woods. He was always seen as Woods' biggest challenger, more than Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh who made up the supposed elite four.

Els' name hasn't really been mentioned as a possible Major winner in a while. Yesterday changed that.

He said: "I've had a pretty tough time of it for almost a year now, what with the injury and my game.

"I didn't want to say how bad it was before because we are all competitors and you only want to say good things.

"I now feel physically fine and there has been no problems with my knee for months. I've done a lot of hard work but it's been a tough 12 months.

"But now I'm ready to play. I'm in a really nice position am looking forward to the weekend.

"For a while there, Phil was the best in the Majors. But I have been a good player myself for a long time. I just had a bit of a dip.

"As I said, I've worked hard to get back and I'm now going to take it one round at a time.

"Let's see what happens after this week. Maybe then I'll be back in your top five. Maybe even your top three."

Maybe, Ernie. Maybe.

CAPTION(S):

IMPRESSIVE: Ernie Els
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 22, 2006
Words:578
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