Originally created 02/22/99

Nissan win satisfies Els



LOS ANGELES -- Ernie Els showed he's not quite ready to be pushed off the world golfing stage by Tiger Woods and David Duval.

Els, a native of South Africa who is a two-time U.S. Open champion, said all week that he thought Woods and Duval were playing the best in the world. Then he showed he's still among golf's elite by beating them and everyone else in a strong Nissan Open field on Sunday.

"When you have players of that caliber in the field and you come out on top, it's very satisfying. I will remember this as one of my good ones," said Els, who shot his second consecutive 3-under-par 68 to finish two strokes ahead of Woods, Davis Love III and Ted Tryba.

"You don't beat all those guys very often," Els added.

Woods and Love shot 70, and Tryba, who had a Riviera Country Club record 61 a day earlier, shot 72.

Els, 29, won despite a shaky finish, as swirling breezes off the Pacific kicked up in the afternoon to make for a ragged conclusion at Riviera.

He finished at 14-under-par 270 and bogeyed two of his last three holes, including No. 18. But he got the victory when Woods and Tryba, needing birdies on 18 to force a playoff, both bogeyed.

Els gave Woods and Tryba a chance to catch him when his 4-foot par putt slid past the cup on the 18th green. He then watched anxiously as the final group -- Woods, Tryba and Love -- finished.

Love parred the last hole, but Woods hit a terrible approach shot and Tryba's third shot didn't give himself a real birdie opportunity.

"I have given Tiger chances before and he's taken them," Els said. "That was a lot to expect from him (a birdie) because that hole was playing really tough."

Woods, who won a week earlier at San Diego with scores of 62 and 65 on the last two days, grimaced the moment he hit his stray shot on 18; he realized he had just ruined any realistic chance to catch up by shanking it.

The ball sailed far to the right on the 451-yard, par-4 hole, bounced into a concession stand and rolled under a chair.

He was given a drop, but still had a very long chip to the green and was forced to try his par putt from 25 feet away.

"I left the blade wide open and it caught the wind," Woods said of his errant approach. "I had my chances for birdies and wasn't able to convert; you have to make those to win."

Tryba left his third shot, a chip from the rough, well short of the hole on the way to his closing bogey. But Tryba, who led at San Diego before shooting 74 the last two days, wasn't discouraged by finishing second.

"I showed myself that when I'm playing well, I can play with the best players in the world," he said.

Els began the day tied with Woods and Love, two shots behind Tryba.

There was no 59 this time from Duval, who had won two of his four 1999 starts, including a PGA record-closing round of 59 at the Bob Hope. But he did manage to stay close -- after parring the first nine holes Sunday, he finally managed two birdies on the back for a 69 that left him just three shots behind Els.

Nick Price, with a 68, finished tied with Duval for fifth.

Els, a 29-year-old South African who splits his time between Orlando, where he owns a home, and his native country, plays a lot overseas, and his 19 PGA Tour appearances in 1997 were his most ever.

Still, the Nissan win assured him a six-year run of victories on the Tour. He won once each year from 1994 to 1998.

Els trimmed two shots off par on the front nine, then birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 13 to go to 16-under. He bogeyed No. 16 before missing the short putt on the final hole.

Woods also finished second last year, when the tournament was moved to Valencia, Calif., while Riviera was being prepared for the Senior Open. Billy Mayfair, who beat Woods for the title last year by making a birdie putt on the first playoff hole, this time shot 74 to finish in a tie for 23rd at 5-under.