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Ernie Els reflects on rivalry with Tiger Woods, elusive Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Nobody has finished second to Tiger Woods more than Ernie Els, a testament to the South African's stature in the game over the years as well as the frustration he faced in trying to beat the game's top player.

Els now has a different task in trying to bring an elusive Presidents Cup victory to the International squad in what has been a lopsided competition dating to its beginning in 1994.

On the opposing side is Woods, the captain of the U.S. team who will also play in the competition that begins Thursday at Royal Melbourne, where Els holds the course record of 60.

The Big Easy won't be playing, however, and simply brings a career's worth of knowledge -- and lots of scar tissue -- to the competition that he'd very much like to see shift.

"He's not a bad golfer, you know what I mean,'' Els said of Woods during a Tuesday morning news conference before both teams were to play practice rounds. "He's one of the best, the best of my generation. It was a privilege to compete against him. I know I could have had a couple more events under my belt, but still very proud to have played against Tiger, and after all these years to be friends with him is another privilege.

"It's been a long ride. I've known Tiger since the early '90s when he was still a junior player, and we've shared a lot of moments together. A lot of tournaments come through my mind now where I've come close and lost to him, but there was a couple where I got him here and there.

"But it's been a real privilege to play in his era. Where the game of golf has gone in the last 24 years is just remarkable, and it could not be where it is today if it it wasn't for Tiger Woods.

"So with all that being said and done ... we'd like to kick their asses this week here.''

Els, 50, got a big laugh, but it appears to be a tall order. The U.S. side will be a heavy favorite in a competition it has dominated, going 10-1-1. The International squad's only victory was here at Royal Melbourne in 1998, a team Els played on. And the tie came in South Africa in 2003 when -- under rules at the time -- Woods and Els squared off in three epic holes of sudden death, with the competition finally being declared a draw.

All 12 players on the American squad are ranked among the top 23 in the world, while the International side has just two players -- Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama -- ranked that high.

Els has finished second to Woods seven times, including four times in major championships, twice in 2000 -- by 15 shots at the U.S. Open and by eight at The Open.

The two players have combined for more than 160 worldwide victories, including 19 major championships.

But when it comes to the Presidents Cup, Els played on eight teams that went 1-6-1 against the Americans. In the only victory, Els went 3-1-1.

Woods went 2-3 that week, winning his singles match against Greg Norman, but the U.S. lost 20½ to 11½ with Jack Nicklaus as the captain.

"The guys' season ended around Nov. 1 and quite frankly most of the guys didn't play,'' Woods said. They put the clubs away. Rested for a month and a half, and we came down here. The guys just weren't sharp. We didn't come as prepared as we needed to be and the International team was loaded and they put it on us. They flat-out outplayed us and we couldn't respond. Our games weren't sharp enough to respond, and unfortunately that led to a blowout.''

Only Dustin Johnson of the 12-man U.S. squad did not play last week at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where Woods finished fourth. The entire team and entourage including Johnson departed from the Bahamas on a charter flight on Saturday night and arrived 26 hours later on Monday morning.

As part of a kick-off event on the Yarra River, Woods hit two balls in the water Monday afternoon, perhaps an ominous sign. Tuesday was spent trying to get acclimated and learn the golf course.

"Today is an important day for us to just walk and to stretch our legs a bit,'' Woods said. "Getting in yesterday after a 26-hour ride in a luxurious tin can, it's nice to actually get out there and feel some fresh air.''