MELBOURNE, Australia – The way Ernie Els sees the Presidential Cup is Royal Melbourne Golf Club as a savannah in his native South Africa and the United States team is the bald beast that attacks its players.
Sometimes the beast bites, Els told his international team. And when does that happen?
"Insert a spear and bite back," he said.
This Presidential Cup is personal to Els, 50, a first captain who bears scars from his fight as a player with the American captain Tiger Woods. Seven times in his Hall of Fame career, Els became second at Woods, including four times in major championships.
"I have known Tiger since the early 90s when he was a junior player, and we" have shared many moments together, & Els said at the beginning of the week. "A lot of tournaments now come through my mind where I came close and lost to him, but there was a few where I got him, you know, here and there."
Els & # 39; s underdog International team held a four-point lead over Tiger and his cubs in the fourth of five sessions on Saturday. While the biennial competition turned to the decisive Sunday singles session, it was reasonable to ask yourself: would the captain's past become a prologue?
Can the international players endure a Sunday attack by the Americans and Els load a bunch at the PGA Tour stop outside of Miami in 2002? Or will the last day think of the day in 1998 when Els started a final round with eight strokes for Woods to lose him alone in a play-off?
Regardless of how the Presidential Cup ends, Els has succeeded in changing the culture of the international team. Traditionally a multinational hodgepodge of players from outside of Europe, the Internationals have had little in common for years, except for a shared history of bad losses for the Americans, who set a 10-1-1 record in this year's event.
Els & # 39; s 12-strong team competes under the flags of nine countries, but has found solidarity in analytics, a numerical system with which Els has determined his pairings.
Els' influence can be anywhere two or more international players are gathered. He introduced a new team logo, a coat of arms that symbolizes the strength and unity that he promotes in the team room. He has challenged the Australian bustle to get louder behind their & # 39; home & # 39; team and he has stood on tee-boxes to show his players exactly where they should aim their shots.
"I think if you give him a club in his hand, he will make the shot for you," joked Louis Oosthuizen, an experienced South African team member. "He's so in this week."
Woods, on the other hand, has a club in his hands. This time the Americans are captains and he worked with Justin Thomas to win two games in the first two days. Woods, 43, is just the second captain in the 25-year history of the event and he recently became the second player to win 82 PGA tournaments.
His shadow is huge and Els, not for the first time, has felt the chill it casts.
In joint news conferences that led to the weekend, Els and Woods asked 62 questions, 39 of which focused on Woods. On Friday, when eight of the 12 questions went to Woods, Els picked up his phone and started browsing through it.
Els is one of the more brilliant players in professional golf, and in the year-and-a-half run-up to the competition, he turned his cosiness off to his players. At Els's insistence, they gathered for dinners that became bonding exercises.
"Ernie has done his best to get us all together and just get to know each other," said Australian Cameron Smith, one of the seven newcomers to the international team. "I think that played a very big role this week."
As the week ends, Els & # 39; s conversations with outsiders have become shorter and looks are longer.
"I think he's a little more intense, & # 39; Oosthuizen said." It almost looks like he wants this more than when he plays there. "
Can anyone tell him that Els has 72 global titles, including four majors, and is a former world number 1. He is golf king, but this week, as was the case for most of Els & # 39; career, Woods has the biggest share
"You say you didn't see Ernie so focused," said Australian Adam Scott, who plays in his ninth Presidential Cup, & # 39; but I remember I played with him so often in the heat of these events or in majors. He was an incredible competitor who won so much. That's his habit, it's winning. You know, he's a little old now and has been around for a few years not so much participated in the tour, but deep down he is used to winning, and that is the attitude he brought here.
Geoff Ogilvy, a captain of an international team assistant, said he suspected it would be very satisfying for Els to win at Woods' expense.
"It would be fun," said Ogilvy, an Australian. “He came across a lot in the big tournaments. He was so far and away the second best golfer in the world for the best patch in Tiger's career, but that was still a lot of daylight from number 1. "
Woods and Els both dedicated the past two years to major renovation projects. Woods has rebuilt his own career and Els has overhauled the international team.
"It was fantastic to see the dedication with which Ernie prepared for this event," says Trevor Immelman, another assistant captain of Els. "In the last couple of years he has put a lot of time and effort into it, so that, so to speak, no stone has been left undisturbed."
He added: "I really hope our players can respond appropriately and make him proud."