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Ernie Els struggled to keep up with Tiger Woods on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ernie Els struggled to keep up with Tiger Woods on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Mixed emotions for Els as he finishes a solid third

Struggles in the middle of his final round ended Ernie Els' chances of overtaking Tiger Woods for the Claret Jug. And though disappointed at again failing to beat Woods, the Big Easy also is pleased to be fully recovered from his knee problem.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- For a moment, it looked as if Ernie Els was going to ruin Tiger Woods' emotional day at the Open Championship.

The Big Easy rolled in a five-foot putt at the fifth hole to draw even with the defending champion and make the rest of the golf world believe that Woods, even playing close to his best, could be caught.

Within minutes, Woods shattered that idea with an 25-foot eagle putt that gave him a two-shot lead. He went on to win by that margin, picking up his second straight British title, and third overall, as well as an 11th major championship. It was Woods' first victory since his father died in May.

"I had to shoot 60-nothing today," said Els, whose 2-under 71 gave him third place with a 13-under 275. "Competing against a guy like Tiger is really tough. He's such a great player. He's really found a way to win majors."

Els started the final round a stroke behind Woods and, with three major victories in his career, was considered one of the most likely to give him a strong challenge at Royal Liverpool.

Although he was the only player to draw even with Woods during the final round, realistically Els never got close.

"He had a game plan and he stuck to it," said Els, who was Woods' playing partner in Saturday's third round. "At times I didn't think it was the right plan because he's so long off the tee he could have hit very short irons at some of the holes. But he stuck to his plan and I've got to give him credit for that.

"He knows how to win these things and it's going to be tough to beat him now."

While Woods had answers to every challenge -- notably from second-place finisher Chris DiMarco, who got within a stroke at the 13th -- Els was unable to get back into contention.

"It got away from me at 8, 9, 10, 11," he said. "In that four-hole stretch, which is not a very tough stretch, I made two bogeys instead of two birdies. I had half a chance but Tiger played great today."

By the time he walked to the 12th tee, Els was four behind Woods and all thoughts of winning the title were gone. Although he picked up birdies at 14 and 16, Woods collected three in a row during the same stretch.

At least Els now knows he's finally recovered after seriously injuring his knee while out sailing after last year's Open.

"Obviously a win would have been great but maybe a top three-finish is not all that bad. I have not been in a top-10 finish in a major for a while," said Els who now has 25 top-10 finishes in majors, 11 in the top three.

"It's great news for me. It's been a long struggle, almost a year now, to play some decent golf again, especially in majors, was really a thrill. I'm looking forward to the future again."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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