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Els Does His Part, but Woods Has Work to Do

No. 2 in world flies up the leaderboard with a 65 at Bay Hill. Rain delay limits Tiger to seven holes.

March 22, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla — ORLANDO, Fla. -- Now we know what separates Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, something besides one spot in the rankings. It's rain.

The second round of the Bay Hill Invitational was watered down with a weather delay of nearly five hours Friday, but it may have served only to delay the inevitable showdown between Els, who finished his round with a 65, and Woods, who was eventually stranded on his eighth hole when it got too dark to continue.

Because of Friday's thunderstorms, Woods and 60 others will complete their second round this morning, then take off in hot pursuit of Els, who probably risked whiplash after such a total turnaround from Thursday's disappointing 74.

He had a lot working for him, Els said.

"Yeah, shooting 65, you've got a lot going for you," he said.

Els wasn't the only one to have it his way. With the rain softening the greens and because there was no wind, Bay Hill gave up enough birdies to fill an aviary. Woods had four of them, but he also had two bogeys, which means he starts today one shot and 11 holes behind Els.

"We knew we were not going to finish and we would probably get seven or eight holes in before they called play," Woods said. "You try to make the most of it. You try to get under par for the day. I made a couple of mistakes but still ended up under par for the day, so I'm very pleased."

Woods got a scare during the rain delay when his girlfriend fainted outside the clubhouse and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital with Woods as a passenger. Elin Nordegren, who was released later, had an apparent case of food poisoning and dehydration. Woods said she is doing well.

It's hardly a two-player tournament with Woods and Els, even if that's what many would like it to become, including tournament host Arnold Palmer.

"It's kind of turning into a script that I'd like to see," Palmer said.

Of course, Woods and Els must do their part, but Aaron Baddeley birdied the only three holes he played to move to six under when play was called off for the day.

Els, at five-under 139, leads everyone who has completed 36 holes, one shot ahead of Steve Lowery, Peter Lonard and Niclas Fasth.

Lowery turned in a bogey-free round of 67 while Lonard couldn't get his long-handled putter to cooperate and three-putted for a bogey at the 18th to finish with a 69. Fasth shares the feeling. He ended his round with a bogey when he missed the green, signed for a 68, then answered a question about what he did during the rain delay.

"Just sat very still," he said.

Robert Gamez, who won this tournament in 1990 when he eagled the last hole to beat Greg Norman by one shot, will begin the third round two shots behind Els at 141.

Play was halted at 11:13 a.m. with 62 players yet to begin, including Woods, whose 12:30 p.m. start became a 4:50 p.m. tee time. By then, Els was applying the finishing touches to his seven-under round. It couldn't have begun any better, with four consecutive birdies, starting his round at the 10th hole.

"You don't plan on making four birdies in a row from the first hole, but off I went," he said.

Later, Els went off again, this time when he was asked about next week's Players Championship, near and dear to the hearts of the PGA Tour hierarchy, which holds it in high esteem, often referring to it as the fifth major.

Not really, said Els.

"It's the best-run tournament of the year, let's put it that way, but it's not a major," he said. "Never will be."

Els said he doesn't care for the TPC Stadium Course and thinks there are too many spectators.

But whatever it is, that's a week away and Els has his hands full in the meantime. He's either fielding questions about Woods or preparing himself to play against Woods, then field questions about that too.

Els says that he hopes it will be him against Tiger, coming down the stretch together Sunday afternoon.

"I just want to try to get better," he said. "I think if I get better to the level I want to play at, I'm going to play a lot with Tiger because he's already on that level.

"If that means I'm going to play a lot more with Tiger, it will be great."

Els said that might mean he'd also be better.

"Who knows? You know, we've played together for the last six or seven years. He's definitely gotten better. And I've had my moments."

Another moment, one that includes both of them, wouldn't hurt.

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