Rested Els says he `wants to compete' with wrist healed

Psychologist helps perk up British Open champ

picketing ruling appealed


The Masters

April 09, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Ever since he won last year's British Open at Muirfield, Ernie Els has been pointing to this year's Masters and a possible showdown with two-time defending champion Tiger Woods.

The anticipated meeting of the world's top two players was heightened when Els won the first two PGA Tour events this year in Hawaii, as well as two events overseas.

But after Els sprained his right wrist working out on a punching bag last month, the air of expectancy seemed to fizzle a bit as the 67th Masters approached.

"It might have lessened [for the media], not for me," Els said yesterday.

Having learned from trying to play through injuries, Els took the last two weeks off. With his wrist sound and his mind fresh, he is looking forward to backing up his victory in Scotland with winning a tournament in which he has come close several times, including a second-place finish to Vijay Singh in 2000.

"I want to feel like I'm 100 percent ready to play," said Els, 33. "I want to compete. I don't just want to show up and make the cut and make a good check. I watched the guys the past two weeks, especially Davis [Love] at The Players Championship. When you see guys play, it gets you ready."

Els said he is taking a different approach than in 2000, when he finished second in three of the four majors, including twice to Woods. It stems from his work with sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, who helped another South African, Retief Goosen, win the 2001 U.S. Open.

"I think I went at it the wrong way," said Els, whose British Open win was his first major championship since the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. "I played tournaments, played majors, against Tiger. So if you start playing Tiger on Thursday from the first tee ... I think you're going to beat yourself up and not play your normal game."

During and after his win at Muirfield, Els spoke of "the little guy on my shoulder" taking control of his mind and, eventually, his game. It made him play too defensively at times and too aggressively on other occasions, and contributed to his five-year winless drought in majors.

Asked yesterday how big "the little guy" was these days, Els joked, "He'll always be there. I've just got to start whipping him a little more."

Woods, too.

Burk courts new option

Martha Burk isn't giving up on the idea of picketing at the front gate of the men's-only Augusta National Golf Club.

Burk, who heads the National Council of Women's Organizations, and her allies headed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday after a district judge ruled the city can restrict protests to a site a half-mile from the club's main entrance.

With the Masters set to begin tomorrow, Burk asked for an emergency ruling from the Atlanta-based appeals court.

"Time is growing short," she said. "That's not usual for authorities who are not acting in good faith to try to delay past the point where it makes no difference."

Burk, who wants the club to allow female members, plans to protest Saturday during the third round of the Masters.

Taking the fifth

One year after several holes were lengthened, the biggest change this year occurred with the par-4 fifth hole. The yardage was increased by 20 yards to 455 yards, but more importantly, two bunkers were moved about 80 yards closer to the green and to the left side of the fairway.

It means that rather than having a fairly unimpeded tee shot, players will have to think about carrying the bunkers (about 315 yards out) or playing just short of them.

Balancing act

Phil Mickelson has won eight tournaments since becoming a father for the first time shortly after the 1999 U.S. Open, but admits that the birth of his third child - and first son, Evan - two weeks ago has made it difficult to get back in the swing.

"I wouldn't say that I'm 100 percent competitively, based on my performance last week," said Mickelson, who missed the cut at the BellSouth Classic with rounds of 73 and 79. "It was more difficult than I thought to get back into it. But I'm glad I did it because it would be a shock coming here without it."

Mickelson, who has finished third here the past two years, believes that he can juggle his family and career with success.

"Jack Nicklaus had four kids at this age and he had a pretty good career," said Mickelson, who is still looking for his first major at age 32. "I think if you manage your time well the way Jack did, you can be just as good in your career as if you were single."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Masters on TV

Tomorrow and Friday: USA Network, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; chs, 13, 9, 11:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. (highlights show).

Saturday: Chs. 13, 9, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Sunday: Chs. 13, 9, 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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