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Ernie Els knows what it takes to face Tiger Woods in a Presidents Cup singles match, and he knows what he’s looking for in deciding Woods’ potential opponent next week at Royal Melbourne.
Els and Woods squared off in one of the most memorable duels in Presidents Cup history when they faced off in singles play in 2003 and then went head-to-head again in a cup-deciding overtime match that ultimately ended in a draw. Now they’re each captains for the biennial matches that will resume next week in Australia, with one big difference – only Woods will also try his hand as a playing captain.
After choosing himself with a pick, Woods is required to play in a minimum of two matches including a singles match on the final day. Els is playing this week in the Australian Open along with six International Team members, and he told PGATour.com that he’ll assess some intangible factors when weighing which players might be best-suited to go up against the reigning Masters champ.
“I’ll analyze how the guys are playing and see who’s really got the look in the eye,” Els said. “There are a lot of guys who have put their hands up to want to play Tiger … but I will not put a guy in there that’s going to feel overwhelmed.”
Els’ team will include seven rookies, and only four of his players have ever participated in a Presidents Cup that featured Woods as a player. None have ever played him in singles. Woods’ most recent singles opponent was South Africa’s Richard Sterne at the 2013 matches at Muirfield Village, while he hasn’t lost in Presidents Cup singles match since facing Mike Weir in 2007.
While Ryder Cup captains submit their entire singles’ lineup without knowing who will play for the other side, Presidents Cup singles’ matches are set pick by pick meaning that the captains can have a say in who faces certain opponents.
One year after Jon Rahm beat Woods in singles’ play at the Ryder Cup, Els explained that he won’t be afraid to put a fresh face next to Woods’ name as he looks to help the Internationals to just their second win in the 25-year history of the event.
“The youngsters look up at him, but they definitely want to have a piece of him,” Els said. “So, we’ll see who I think can really play against Tiger the best and get the best result.”