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Els doesn't see Tiger being as dominant again
by Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Ernie Els says golf technology and a more competitive tour means Tiger Woods won't be as dominant as he once was.

"Everybody has become better players, technology has brought everybody closer together," Els said Tuesday at the Heineken Classic, where he begins play Thursday trying for his fourth win in a row at Royal Melbourne.

"I think he's had a very good start obviously, but I can't see him being that dominant again. The guys out there are a lot more confident, they've stepped up to their games. No one is hitting it 30 or 40 yards past everybody else."

Woods won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan last November, then shot four rounds in the 60s to win his Target World Challenge against a 16-man field to finish the year.

Ten days ago, Woods rallied from a two-shot deficit over the final six holes to win the Buick Invitational for his first U.S. PGA Tour victory in 11 months.

Vijay Singh took over the No. 1 ranking from Woods last September, a position Woods had held for five years. But Woods has gone 10 majors without winning, matching his longest winless streak in Grand Slam events.

"Technology has changed the game," added Els. "Twelve to 15 years ago, before titanium drivers and new golf balls, it was a different game.

"At the moment, he (Woods) is playing better, and more confident. But other guys will be right there. I don't think he'll be that dominant again, although I might be wrong."

Els kept pace with Singh and Woods by finishing in a tie for third, second, and a tie for sixth in his first three tournaments of 2005, including a runner-up finish to Singh at the Sony.

He took last week off for a holiday with his family before flying to Melbourne for his shot at a four-peat at the Heineken.

"This tournament has been like a dream for me, but it's like anything: you win it three times in a row, so can four be possible?" Els said before a nine-hole practice round on the revamped Royal Melbourne composite layout.

The course has been reduced to a par 71, making the 10th hole a par four, a move Els called a "good move."

Last year, Els opened with a 60 in perfect scoring conditions, flirting with a 59 when he missed birdie putts on the final two holes.

But he shot a 2-over 74 in the final round when a northerly breeze was blowing, just eking out a one-shot win over Adam Scott when Scott left a birdie putt on the 18th inches short that would have forced a playoff.

"Last year I had a perfect start, but I've also won this tournament when I've come from behind and shot 65 on the final day," said Els.

"I hadn't seen a northerly since the Presidents Cup in 1998. It caught me off guard, on the front nine I shot a 42. But I had a great back nine."

Els doubts he or anyone else will threaten to shoot 59 again at Royal Melbourne.

Last year in the opening round, more than 90 golfers in the field of 156 broke par and 50 shot 69 or better in the ideal conditions.

"How many times do you get a chance to shoot 59, but I had a golden chance last year," said Els of his course-record 60. "I bogeyed 15, birdied 16 but couldn't get a birdie on the last two holes."

"If you had one or two chances a year, you're doing very well. I had a chance at the Sony, I shot a 62 on a par 70, and looking back, I missed four putts from eight to 10 feet."

But Els says those occasions are rare.

"You have freaky days, when the weather is right and the greens are receptive and the pin positions aren't tough," said Els. "When you find the putts are going in, you try to take advantage of it, and that's what I did.

"But I can't see anyone breaking that score on this golf course. There is too much that can happen."

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