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Els Easily Among Game's Elites
December 1, 1999

KAPALUA, Maui, Hawaii - He's called the Big Easy, and there's no mystery as to why Ernie Els has earned such a nickname. Easy swing. Easy manner. Easy smile. And easily one of the game's best players.

In 1999, the powerful six-foot-three, 210 pound-Els was a force on the PGA TOUR and the world golf stage.

The 30-year-old South African won the Nissan Open in February for his seventh PGA TOUR title and extended to six years his string of victories, the longest current streak on the TOUR. His win at Riviera Country Club was impressive. Els posted four rounds in the 60s, shot 14-under-par 270 and beat Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and Ted Tryba by two strokes.

He collected six other top-10 finishes, including runner-up at the National Car Rental Classic and third at the Doral-Ryder Open. He finished 15th on the money list with $1,712,278, and Els' 70.09 stroke average ranked 12th on the PGA TOUR.

His 1999 season, which also included a victory at the South African PGA, wasn't all about golf, though. The two-time U.S. Open champion, who lives in Fancourt, South Africa, and Orlando, Fla., became a father for the first time when daughter Samantha was born May 26 in London. "Probably my focus has been more away from golf than I wanted it to be," he said. "But it's been more important matters in life. I mean, having a baby has been quite an adaptation."

In 2000, he is planning a PGA TOUR schedule of at least 20 events along with his usual globe-trotting itinerary.

"I feel good when I play a lot," he says. "I didn't play a lot last year because of a back problem, and this year was slow with Samantha. Next year, I'll give it a full go again, travel a little bit like the old days and see how it goes."

No one should be surprised if it goes well.

Heading into 1999 Els had won 27 times around the world, including those U.S. Open triumphs. In 1994 at Oakmont, he beat Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts in a playoff. His '97 win at Congressional, by one shot over Montgomerie again made him the first international player since Alex Smith in 1910 to win multiple U.S. Open championships.

Other than his abbreviated 1998 PGA TOUR schedule, in which he played just the minimum 15 tournaments, Els has never finished out of the top 30 on the U.S. money list, impressive considering his commitment to appearances in Europe and South Africa.

"Your game speaks for itself," Els said after he won in Los Angeles. Enough said.

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