THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Els will go with gut on Woods matchup
December 04, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els' top-3 shots in the Presidents Cup
SYDNEY, Australia – International Team Captain Ernie Els says he will go for the guy with “the look in the eye” when it comes to taking on U.S. Team Captain Tiger Woods in Sunday singles at next week’s Presidents Cup.
Els confirmed that his 12-man team had been posturing for a chance to take on the 82-time PGA TOUR winner man-on-man since Woods officially selected himself to play.
A Woods win in singles at Royal Melbourne could be the catalyst the International Team needs to win the biennial team event for the first time since 1998, even if Els says the U.S. captain has lost the aura he once held.
“I don't think it’s the same kind of aura like in the past, I think it’s a different kind of aura ... It’s more he’s a celebrity kind of aura,” Els said of Woods, who will become the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in 1994.
“I’ll analyze how the guys are playing and see who’s really got the look in the eye. There are a lot of guys who have put their hands up to want to play Tiger … but I will not put a guy in there that’s going to feel overwhelmed.
“Obviously he’s (still) very competitive. He’s won The Masters and won in Japan this year. When he’s healthy, he can play at a very high level, but consistently, he’s not what he used to be and that’s just what age does.”
While the likes of veterans Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen might seem like logical choices to take on Woods, Els has seven rookies on his team and says he’s not afraid to use them. This includes Sungjae Im and Joaquin Niemann, who are both 21.
“It’s a very young team. These guys, they never competed against Tiger like some of the other guys like Scotty have,” Els said.
“The youngsters look up at him, but they definitely want to have a piece of him. So, we’ll see who I think can really play against Tiger the best and get the best result.”
Of course with the back-and-forth nature of setting up matches in the Presidents Cup, Woods could be the man in control of who he plays.
In the past, the 15-time major winner has earmarked a local star, or big name player, to set a tone for his side.
In 1998 at Royal Melbourne, Woods insisted on playing against Australian Greg Norman, and while the U.S. suffered their only team defeat, Woods prevailed in his match.
He also took on Els in South Africa in 2003, Mike Weir in Canada in 2007 and Aussie Aaron Baddeley back at Royal Melbourne in 2011.
If it is to be a home-grown talent once more that leaves Scott, Marc Leishman or Cameron Smith in his sights.
Former THE PLAYERS champion Scott is one of the players asking for it.
“It’d be great to stick it to Tiger and the entire American team,” Scott said.
“He’s the ultimate competitor; there’s no way he’s not doing everything possible coming down here as a captain, and a player, to win this event. There’s no way he wants to be captain of a losing U.S. team.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but we have to believe we can beat him and I believe we can win next week.”
While Sunday strategy is part of the big game plan from Els, the South African legend has tried to shift his players concerns to the opening three days of competition where Four-ball and Foursomes take center stage.
Given the Internationals have trailed heading to Sunday in the last six editions of the competition, he is wise to do so.
“I’m really focused on the first couple of sessions. We’ve got four sessions before we get to the singles. There’s a lot of golf to be played,” Els said.
Els says his data-driven pairings in the team portion may surprise people but he’s determined to see his blueprint through in order to provide an upset at Royal Melbourne.
“There are a couple of pairings that are kind of natural pairings, if you can call it that, but I’m looking at it in a different way, not just a personality way. I’m looking at how the guys can really perform together. So, stay tuned,” Els said.
“My pairings are on my phone and we’ve looked at quite a few different scenarios. I’ve spoken to the players … and my plan is kind of set in motion already.”