January 15 — In what some golf observers believe could be a belated jab at top-ranked Tiger Woods, Ernie Els gave notice that he believes fellow golfer Phil Mickelson is ready to take over as the best on the PGA Tour.
- The PGA Tour is teeing it up in sunny Hawaii again this week at the Sony Open, as these photos of guys in shirtsleeves illustrate
Even if Woods were not on a self-imposed hiatus from professional golf in the wake of his infamous sex scandal, Els told reporters at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, Mickelson has what it takes to overtake the embattled Number One.
“The way Phil Mickelson played at the end of last year, he played with Tiger in Shanghai, won the tournament there on the final day,” Els said Wednesday. “The Tour Championship, he won coming from behind, you know.
Hitting his stride. “I mean, the way he is hitting the ball, Phil is hitting it as long, or longer, than anybody out there,” Els continued. “He has really been working hard. Now his putting is coming around. I think Phil is probably the man to beat now.”
Could this be the Big Easy’s way of getting back at Tiger for his unsolicited and puzzling poke at Els back at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston last September?
Not a hard worker. “Ernie is not a big worker physically,” Woods said, referring to the South African’s post-knee surgery rehab efforts, “and that’s one of the things that you have to do with an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repair is you’ve got to really do a lot of work.”
Woods went on to say that he felt “pretty good” with his own comeback from knee surgery. Els, however, “could have worked a little bit harder,” Woods added
Why would Woods, who with minor exceptions has always offered typically bland responses to reporters queries, supply such an unusually nasty comment then? And is Els punching back now?
Woods, who had one of his club-throwing incidents at the Deutsche Bank, seemed to be having a generally bad day when he made his comments.
With what’s happened since Thanksgiving, perhaps Tiger was battling demons off the course as well as on.
Where’s Tiger? Perhaps Els, for his part, decided to offer his tit-for-tat, with Woods nowhere to be seen and offering no hints about if or when he will return.
“Even when Tiger stopped playing, even if you ask Tiger, I think Phil got right to his level, throughout his game,” Els said. “I think there is a new guy we got to chase.”
Chilly reception? As for the reception Woods can expect upon his eventual return, Els dismissed the notion that the world’s best golfer would have to change his steely demeanor with fans who once idolized him.
“He did it [walk by people without giving autographs], didn’t he?” Els said.
“I think he will have the blinkers on and do his thing. I don’t know,” said Els. “It’s just a situation it’s tough to talk about. I’ve known him all of my life, most of my life. I don’t know. We’ll see when that happens.”
With everyone from Christianista Brit Hume to rap artist Russell Simmons weighing in on the Tiger Woods ongoing sex scandal, why not POTUS? Read about what President Obama had to say about Tiger Woods at Obama gives Woods tips on recovery.