MELBOURNE, Australia – Ernie Els sees the Presidents Cup, the Royal Melbourne Golf Club like a savannah in his South African homeland, and the US team is the beast that attacks his players with his bare teeth.
Sometimes the beast bites, Els said to his international group. And when does that happen?
"Put a spear in and bite back," he said.
This Presidents Cup is personal to Els, 50, a first-time captain who is scarred from his struggles as a player with U.S. captain Tiger Woods. Els finished second to Woods seven times in his Hall of Fame career, including four at major championships.
"I have known Tiger since the early 1990s when he was a junior and we shared many moments," said Els earlier this week. "A lot of tournaments came to my mind when I got close to him and lost to him, but there were a few where I caught him here and there."
Els & # 39; Outsider International had a four point lead over Tiger and his boys, who participated in the fourth of five sessions on Saturday. When the biennial competition turned to the crucial Sunday individual session, it was sensible to ask: would the captains' past become a prologue?
Can the national team survive a Sunday storm from the Americans? just like Els a Woods fee at the PGA Tour stop outside of Miami in 2002? Or will the last day remind you of the day in 1998 when Els started an eight lap lead over Woods? lose to him in a playoff?
No matter how the Presidents Cup ends, Els has managed to change the culture of the international team. Traditionally a multinational mishap for players outside Europe, the internationals have had little in common for years, except for a common history of defeat against the Americans, who set a 10: 1 record this year.
Els’s team of 12 compete under the flags of nine countries, but has found solidarity in analytics, a number-based system that Els used to match.
Els & # 39; influence can be seen wherever two or more international players gather. He introduced a new team logo, a coat of arms that symbolizes the strength and unity that he maintains in the team room. He has challenged Australian spectators to louder behind their "home team", and has stood on tees to show players exactly where to aim their shots.
"I think if you put a bat in his hand he'll get the shot for you," joked Louis Oosthuizen, an experienced team member from South Africa. "He's like this this week."
Woods, on the other hand, had a racket in hand. The Americans & # 39; Play captain This time he teamed up with Justin Thomas to win two games in the first two days. 43-year-old Woods is only the second captain in the event's 25-year history. He was recently the second player to take 82 PGA Tour wins.
His shadow is immense, and this is not the first time Els has felt the cold that he triggers.
At weekend joint press conferences, Els and Woods asked 62 questions, 39 of which were addressed to Woods. On Friday, when eight of the twelve questions went to Woods, Els idly took his cell phone and started leafing through it.
Els is one of the more brilliant players in professional golf, and in the year and a half before the competition his socializing affected his players. At Els & # 39; urge, they met for dinner, which turned into attachment exercises.
"Ernie went out of his way to bring us all together and just get to know each other," said Australian Cameron Smith, one of seven international team newcomers. "I think that played a really big role this week."
As the week went on, Els & # 39; conversations with outsiders became shorter and his looks longer.
"I think he's a little more intense," said Oosthuizen. "It almost looks like he wants that more than when he plays out there."
Can anyone blame him? Els has 72 global titles, including four majors, and is a former number 1 in the world. He is a golf king. But this week, as was the case for most of Els’s career, Woods commands the king’s share in attention.
"You say you haven't seen Ernie so focused yet," said Australian Adam Scott, who plays in his ninth Presidents Cup, "but I remember playing with him so often in the heat of those events or with majors "He was an incredible competitor who won so much. It's his habit. It wins. You know, he's a little old now and hasn't been on the tour that much in a few years, but deep down He's used to winning inside, and that's the attitude he brought here. "
Geoff Ogilvy, a captain of the international team, said he suspected that it would be deeply satisfying for Els to win at Woods' expense.
"It would be nice," said Ogilvy, an Australian. “He caused a sensation at the big tournaments. He was by far the second best golfer in the world for the best spot in Tiger's career, but that was still a lot of daylight from 1st place. "
Woods and Els have dedicated major renovation projects over the past two years. Woods rebuilt his own career and Els overtook the international team.
"It has been fantastic to see the level of commitment Ernie is preparing for this event," said Trevor Immelman, another Els captain. "He has invested a lot of time and effort in the past few years and has left nothing unchecked, so to speak. "
He added: "I only hope that our players can react appropriately and make him proud."