Els to Woods: Don't rush back (seriously)

SOUTHPORT, England – Ernie Els has some advice for Tiger Woods: Take your time.

According to a report in the Sunday Mail (UK), Els said he
believes he came back too soon from knee surgery in 2005, which caused his
struggles, which he has only now finally put behind him. Els said that Woods,
who recently underwent similar knee surgery, shouldn’t consider returning to
play until at least March 2009. Els_300 Els said: "Tiger has a tough rehabilitation ahead and time is going to
be the main battle for him. If he comes back too early it could have really
serious consequences. I had the same operation and came back a little too early
because I had a date in mind and was extremely stubborn. I was trying too hard
to be back within five months.”
A fan favorite both in the U.S. and Europe, Els has emerged as one of the
favorites in the Tiger-less British Open this week. No wonder, since he’s
famously finished runner-up to Tiger Woods a record seven times. With a grin, he told
reporters at Royal Birkdale that he was not “overly disappointed that [Woods] is not
here. For the tournament itself, it’s a big blow. And for world golf, not to
have the No. 1 player playing ... we’re definitely going to miss him. But as a
player, like a lot of other players, it feels very different, to be honest.”

One way it’s different, Els said, is that players won’t have
to worry about Tiger on Sunday -- though he stopped short of saying players
choke when facing Tiger.

 “Choke is a strong word in golf, but I think the thought of
him around is quite ominous, especially coming down the stretch. ... Yeah,
there’s definitely a thought of him in your mind all the time,” Els said.

Not that Els is one to intimidate easily, especially in the
locker room. Asked if the atmosphere in there was different without Tiger’s
“presence,” Els laughed.

“That doesn’t bother me,” he said. "I don’t think he’s going
to scare me away from the locker room or anything like that."

 Els also said that if the weather turns bad--showers are
possible every day according to the latest weather reports--it
will be good for him.

 “I’ve played in all kinds of weather conditions,” Els said.
“I played this tournament for the first time in ’89, and since ’92 I’ve played
every year. ... So I’d like to think experience might help, but you’ve got to
hit the golf ball, whether you’re 22 or 38. You’ve got to hit the golf ball.
But leaving yourself shots where you can score from is very important. I think
experience might help.”

An Els victory would make for more drama than you might
expect. The three-time major winner trails only Tiger and Phil Mickelson in
star power on Tour. While those two get all the media attention, Els remains a
rock star on the course, with shouts of “Big Easy!” greeting him at every tee
box.

The fans still love Els, it’s just that he hasn’t been seen on the big stage
in the last couple of years. If he can put it together this week in Birkdale, the
game may have a Big Three again. Or at least it will when the Big One returns.

(Photo: Jon Super/AP)

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