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Latest Edition of Great Rivalries

March 27, 1998|THOMAS BONK

Now arriving just in time for the Masters, this week's updated version of the new, great golf rivalry: Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

Of course, this supersedes any previous new, great golf rivalries, such as Woods-Justin Leonard, Woods-David Duval, Woods-Davis Love III, Woods-Phil Mickelson, Leonard-Mickelson, persimmon-metal.

"You love that rivalry stuff, don't you?" Woods said.

Well, yes, we do. The Woods-Els thing has a lot going for it. For one thing, it's multinational, not to mention multicultural. One's South African, the other's Thai-Chinese-Native American-African American.

They're both young (Els 28, Woods 22), they've both won majors and they both hit drives that are longer than the Academy Awards show.

Els is fresh off a dominating victory at Bay Hill and Woods has been consistently good this year, although winless in the U.S.

For his part, Els has grown into his admiration for Woods, with whom he played in the 1995 U.S. Open.

"He was still an amateur and I didn't really know what all the fuss was about," Els said. "He was really hitting the ball obviously long, but I just felt like he didn't have a lot of control."

Els' opinion of Woods changed once Woods turned pro.

"I really did eat my words," Els said. "He was just a totally different player. I don't know what happened to him, but he was a professional. And then, what, two years later, he is the best player in the world."


Proving once again that you can't take your eyes off John Daly for a minute or he's going to do something really zany, there was the 18 he shot on the sixth hole at Bay Hill last Sunday.

Now, we already know that Daly can whirlybird clubs, walk off courses, knock balls backward over the heads of fans in his gallery, hit his ball into groups in front of him, sign an incorrect scorecard and scuffle with the father of a fellow pro in the clubhouse parking lot.

But making an 18? As is his indelicate fashion, it was pure Daly.

He hit six consecutive balls into the water, beginning with his tee shot. Daly took a drop and then hooked five consecutive three-woods into the pond.

His sixth three-wood landed in a hazard about 180 yards from the green. He took another drop, then bounced a six-iron off some rocks into a bunker. He came out of the bunker and two-putted for 18.

Then he made a birdie two on the next hole. Go figure.

Daly said playing partner Tom Watson gave him some encouragement as he was lining up his putt for 17: "He said 'Knock it in, John.' I about fell over laughing."

Sorting out how you score an 18, Daly said, well, he sort of lost his patience . . . not to mention six golf balls.

"I was determined to get it over that water," he said this week from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and the Players Championship. "Every single time it made me even more mad in a way to keep trying to do it. But after it was said and done, it was pretty funny . . . but probably wasn't the smartest thing to do."

Daly said his recovery from alcoholism is continuing, but that he can't stop smoking and his eating habits aren't that great.

"I mean, granted, I look like Chris Farley, but I don't care right now. I don't care how big I get as long as I stay sober."


Daly put in a call to the Callaway representatives after the round. He got Evan Byers and told him what happened.

"I don't know if you're still gonna love me after this, but I got to tell you. I made 20 on two holes."

Said Byers: "We still love you, John."


When he thought about it, Woods said he does reap some benefits from his celebrity status.

"Four seats at Lakers and Bulls games, not a bad thing."


Sam Snead said he admires the younger set of stars, especially Woods and Els. Snead has known Els for quite a while and said Els had to overcome a temper on the course.

"It used to be a little rough," Snead said. "You had to watch which way he was gonna throw it."

When he saw a 6-year-old Woods swing a club, Snead knew the kid was different.

"You've never seen anything like that," Snead said. "Well, I'll tell you, usually when a parent wants a kid to do something, the kid gets sick of it. It hasn't happened with Tiger. I don't know, but his father must have had something on him."


Snead's biggest winner's check on the regular tour was $11,000 at Greensboro in 1965, although he did make $28,000 for a second-place finish at Milwaukee in 1968.

He's not jealous of the prize money out there now.

"No, sir. Geez, I remember when the pros would stay in hotels for $1.50 a night or sleep in the back seat of their car," said Snead, 85.

"I'd love to start all over again. If I could just back up."


Patty Sheehan, 41, and Rebecca Gaston, her partner and business manager for 12 years, adopted a baby girl last July.

In a first-person column in Golf World, Sheehan said she's now part of an LPGA statistical category she's not accustomed to--one of 26 player-moms on tour.

Sheehan said Bryce is a joy to be around, in a lot of ways.

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