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Els to tame Tiger?

Ernie now heads to the British Open armed with the belief that he has the mental strength to cope with anything Tiger Woods can throw at him.

The defending champion will arrive at Royal St George's in a buoyant mood after strolling away from a world class field to win the Scottish Open. Ernie Els became the Barclays Scottish Open's first-ever two time champion at scenic Loch Lomond on Sunday when he majestically cruised home to a comprehensive 5-stroke victory with a seemingly effortless 69 that gave him his 5th title this year.

"I've been close to my best and I've won quite convincingly," the world number two said after shooting a closing 69, two under par, to claim his fifth win of the year and a second Scottish Open title.

"I've done that a couple of times already this year and now I just have to keep it up."

Els finished with a four-round total of 267, 17 under par, and rarely has the man they call the Big Easy made his sport look so effortless as he dominanted the tournament from start to finish.

He also shrugged off suggestions that winning here could lessen his chances of claiming the bigger prize on offer at Sandwich on England's southeastern coast next Sunday.

"I've won a couple of times this year back to back and I've played well in the majors.

"I've got more confidence with my game right now than I've had in a long time. Next week is a totally different week but I've got confidence in my game."

Ernie, whose Open win at Muirfield last year came five years after his second US Open title, readily admits that he had developed something of a Tiger complex in the barren intervening years.

Having finished a runner-up to the American in three of the majors in 2000, Els understandably began to view Woods - rather than the course - as the primary obstacle to him winning the biggest tournaments.

It was, he now recognises, a self- defeating mindset and one which the Belgian psychologist Jan Vanstiphout has helped him to shed.

"Tiger is the number one player in the world," Els said. "But I feel if I play the way I can then I can compete against him.

"I feel I'm a different player from a couple of years ago and I feel I can take up the challenge better than in the past." Els has described the influence of Vanstiphout's pep talks as a form of "brainwashing," which has enabled him to concentrate on his own game rather than worrying about the world number one.

"Since I've been working with Jos I've had some tournaments where I felt totally in control. That's a great feeling.

"If I play the way I should play, I should be up there on Sunday afternoon."

They may be close now, but Vanstiphout revealed last week that their first encounter, just months before Els's victory at Muirfield, was not so friendly.

"I walked up to him and said 'you're one of the biggest under achievers I've ever seen in my life'," the Belgian recalled. Els's response was succinct, and not for public consumption, but 24 hours later he realised there could be something in what Vanstiphout had to say.

"He is working his balls off and I can smell the hunger in him," Vanstiphout said.

Els dominated proceedings here from the start after firing a seven under par 64 on a rain-drenched opening day.

By Saturday night he had built up a five-stroke advantage over his nearest challengers and there was never any realistic prospect of anyone catching him when the sun finally came out for the final day.

All looks good for the 132nd Open starting on Thursday. Follow the action all the way with the South African and


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