PGA: MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS

Els wins in record fashion


Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 12:48 a.m.

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Ernie Els got the PGA Tour off to a record-setting start Sunday, and stated his case as a legitimate challenger to Tiger Woods.

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Ernie Els follows his drive from the first tee of the Plantation Course during the final round of the Mercedes Championships in Kapalua, Hawaii, Sunday.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The Big Easy shattered the tour's scoring record in relation to par, closing with a 6-under 67 to finish at 31 under and win the Mercedes Championships by eight strokes.

The previous record was 28 under, set by John Huston at the 1998 Hawaiian Open and by Mark Calcavecchia two years ago in the Phoenix Open. Els finished at 261, breaking by five shots the tournament record set four years ago by David Duval.

Woods is home in Florida recovering from knee surgery that will keep him off tour for at least the first five weeks, but his presence might not have mattered.

Els went wire-to-wire on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, overcoming a sluggish start on the front nine and pulling away from K.J. Choi with birdies on five of his last seven holes.

``We might have a couple tonight,'' Els said.

It was an important start of the season for the 33-year-old South African, who lost two good chances to win at Kapalua in the previous three years.

One of them was to Woods in a sensational duel that Woods won on the second playoff hole and set the tone for his record-setting season.

Els was playing for the first time since he won the unofficial Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa, by eight strokes over Colin Montgomerie.

His victim Sunday was Rocco Mediate, who closed with a 73. Mediate also was the runner-up to Calcavecchia when he set the PGA Tour mark of 256 in the 2001 Phoenix Open.

Choi, who had a miserable round on the greens, had a 73 and also finished second at 23-under 269.

``I don't see a problem with Ernie challenging Tiger for the next however many years,'' Mediate said. ``I certainly think Tiger would love for that to happen. He likes to be pushed.''

Woods, who won't return until at least the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, already has some catching up to do.

Els won $1 million for his 11th career victory on the PGA Tour, and sits atop the money list for the first time in his career. He plans to play next week in the $5 million Sony Open.

He will be the big favorite until Woods returns.

Els now has won eight times worldwide over the last 13 months, including a victory in the British Open for his third major.

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