PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- They become footnotes in golf history, the answers to a trivia question.
Hey, who were those guys behind Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open?
Ernie Els, a two-time Open champion, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, a 36-year-old Spaniard, get to share a place in anonymity, their certain fate after winding up a staggering 15 shots behind Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach on Sunday.
Never before has a runner-up played such a minor role in a major championship. Woods was playing his own tournament, while Els and Jimenez settled for winning the B-flight, much like Tom Kite three years ago at Augusta.
(In case you've forgotten, Kite was the runner-up to Woods' 12-stroke victory in the 1997 Masters.)
"Tiger Woods was playing a different tournament after two rounds," said Jimenez, referring to the record-setting 12-under-par score. "After two rounds, I was playing against everybody else. He played great. It was a great performance. I feel great to finish second in this tournament."
Els didn't sound quite as pleased with his role in history. After all, he won his first Open in 1994 at Oakmont, beating Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie in a playoff. Three years later, he added another championship to his impressive record, edging Montgomerie by a stroke at Congressional.
"Finishing second is good," the Big Easy said. "But it's kind of embarrassing to finish 15 shots behind a guy."
Jimenez, one of the top players on the PGA European Tour, and Els were mere blips in Tiger's rearview mirror, the character actors so necessary in an award-winning performance. Both fine golfers, they were worthy tools to demonstrate just how far Woods is ahead of the rest of the world, posting 3-over-par scores that would be good enough to contend most years in the Open.
In fact, many prognosticators believed an even-par score would be good enough to win at Pebble Beach, where the Open's narrow fairways, rock-hard greens and thick rough would be augmented by stormy weather blowing in off Carmel Bay.
Without Tiger, it would have been the winning score.
Instead, Els and Jimenez had to take solace with two of the most impressive performances of the tournament, both likely to be quickly forgotten in the Tiger tidal wave.
In the opening round, Jimenez shot a 5-under 66 to keep Woods within sight, only one shot ahead. But the Spaniard slumped to a 74 the following day, dropping five more shots to the leader. By nightfall Saturday, Jimenez had no chance after a wind-swept 76.
Earlier that day, Els pushed his way near the top of the leaderboard with a brilliant 68, somehow managing to blast through the gusts that sent many players spiraling into the 80s. His only reward, however, was getting to play with Woods in the final pairing of the day.
By then, Tiger had a 10-stroke lead, with Sunday set aside as his coronation. Els failed to challenge his playing partner in the least, struggling to a 72. Not that it mattered.
"I could have played out of my mind and still lost by 6 or 7," said Els, who has been the runner-up in both majors this year, finishing second to Vijay Singh in the Masters in April.
"My putter kind of let me down today," Els continued. "My whole game is not quite there. I threw away a lot of shots around the green this week."
Jimenez, nicknamed "The Mechanic" in a misguided reference to his love of driving high-speed cars, had a chance to finish second all by himself. But he took a bogey at the final hole after dumping his third shot into a bunker in front of the green. He missed a 15-footer to save par and settled for a closing 71.
Els and Woods came along next at the 543-yard hole. The South African went for the green in two and wound up in the right rough. There was a slight delay while he re-spotted his ball, which someone had stepped on.
Els flopped a shot onto the green and putted out for par, leaving the stage to Woods.
"I don't know how much more there is to say," Els said. "We've been talking about him for two years. I guess we'll be talking about him for the next 20 years. We're not in the same ballpark right now. When he's on, you don't have much of a chance."
Well, there was one, last chance to Tiger. He could have been disqualified for signing the wrong scorecard.
"I said to Tiger that he better check his card," Els said. "Otherwise, me and Jimenez have to have a playoff."
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