Bookend moments 15 years apart stand as testimony to the incomparable pro golf landscape into which Ernie Els was born. Already a major champion, Els on Oct. 17, 1996 turned 27 and was seemingly on his way to the top of the golf mountain when three days later, 20-year-old Tiger Woods won his first PGA TOUR tournament, the Las Vegas Invitational. Elsâ€™ world and that of every other professional golfer, would never be the same again. Left bookend: The big South African was asked to measure his predicament in the summer of 2000 when he finished second to Woods at the U.S. Open, then second to him at the Open Championship. He had been beaten by a whopping 15 at Pebble and a hefty eight at the Old Course, deficits that had one writer telling Els that Woods had broken a record that belonged to Old Tom Morris for more than 100 years. â€œOld Tom Morris?â€� Els said with emphatic indignation. â€œOld Tom Morris? If you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger, Tiger would probably beat him by 80 shots right now.â€� Right bookend: The Woodsâ€™ legend had been cemented â€“ 79 PGA TOUR wins, 14 majors â€“ only things were spiraling badly for him in February of 2015. He had missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and withdrawn from the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, and both Woodsâ€™ health and frame of mind seemed fragile. At Pebble Beach the next week, Els shook his head and expressed compassion for his friend and rival. It had been a great rivalry, a reporter opined, only Els stopped, smiled, shook his head, and respectfully edited that comment. â€œHe kicked my ass for 15 years,â€� he laughed. The sheer volume of numbers in Woodsâ€™ favor â€“ 14 majors to Elsâ€™ 4; 683 weeks as No. 1 to Elsâ€™ 9 â€“ would support that consensus. But the greater truth is, Els was a formidable foe, arguably the second-best player on the world stage during his prime. In fact, he won three majors during the Woodsâ€™ era and got the better of his younger rival a number of times. Els digested that, nodded approvingly, and said: â€œI take great pride in that.â€� Conceding that their grandest head-to-head matchup was the unforgettable stalemate of a playoff at the 2003 Presidents Cup, hereâ€™s a look at five other memorable tournaments where the ending involved each of these two icons: 1998 Bay Hill Invitational â€” Els had a six-shot lead over a trio of players, one of whom was Woods, who liked the fact that he was in his first final-round pairing with the South African. But Woods started bogey, bogey, bogey and Elsâ€™ day was that much easier. With a 73, Els won by four, while Woods crashed with a 77 and finished T-13. 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic â€” Els was trying to hold off Nick Faldo in the final round in Thailand, hardly worried about Woods, who was eight back. But Woods shot 65 and waited two hours for Els to finish. A bogey at 17 put Els one back, then he birdied 18 to tie. Woodsâ€™ 14-foot birdie roll on the second playoff hole left the ecstatic Thais in a frenzy. 1999 Nissan Open â€” Els and Woods were tied through 54, two shots behind third-round leader Ted Tryba. But Els seized control in the middle of the final round with five birdies in eight holes. Even with bogeys at 16 and 18, Els shot 68 to beat Woods by two. 2000 Mercedes Championship â€” Theyâ€™re still buzzing on Maui about this one. Tied at 14 under to start the final round, Woods and Els were still tied playing the 18th hole. There, Woods unleashed a brilliant second to 12 feet at the par-5 that measured around 600 yards. Elsâ€™ shot was even better as he hit it inside of Woods. Each made his eagle putt. Back to 18 for the first playoff, Woods and Els again hit the green and this time had matching two-putt birdies. Second time around, again at 18, Woods drained a 40-foot birdie putt to win, leaving Els crushed, but with a priceless perspective. â€œI think heâ€™s a legend in the making,â€� he said. â€œHeâ€™s probably going to be bigger than Elvis.â€� 2006 Dubai Desert Classic â€” Els was two behind Woods, the co-leader, through 54 holes but came home in 67 to get into the clubhouse at 19 under. Woods birdied the 17th and 18th to tie Els, then won on the first playoff hole with a par.
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