Els says competitors 'more confident'

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Ernie Els thinks golf technology and a more competitive PGA Tour means Tiger Woods won't be as dominant as he once was.

"Everybody has become better players, technology has brought everybody closer together," Els said Tuesday at the Heineken Classic, where he begins play Thursday trying for his fourth win in a row at Royal Melbourne.

"I think he's had a very good start obviously, but I can't see
him being that dominant again," Els said. "The guys out there are
a lot more confident, they've stepped up to their games. No one is
hitting it 30 or 40 yards past everybody else."

Woods won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan in November, then shot four rounds in the 60s to win his Target World Challenge
against a 16-man field to finish the year.

Ten days ago, Woods rallied from a two-shot deficit over the
final six holes to win the Buick Invitational for his first PGA
Tour victory in 11 months.

Vijay Singh took over the top ranking from Woods in September. Woods had been No. 1 for five years, but has gone 10 majors without winning, matching his longest winless streak in Grand Slam events.

"Technology has changed the game," Els said. "Twelve to 15 years ago, before titanium drivers and new golf balls, it was a
different game.

"At the moment, he is playing better, and more confident. But other guys will be right there. I don't think he'll be that dominant again, although I might be wrong."

Els kept pace with Singh and Woods by finishing in a tie for third, second, and a tie for sixth in his first three tournaments
of 2005, including a runner-up finish to Singh at the Sony.

He took last week off for a holiday with his family before flying to Melbourne for his shot at a fourth straight Heineken

"This tournament has been like a dream for me, but it's like anything ... you win it three times in a row, so can four be
possible?" Els said before a nine-hole practice round on the
revamped Royal Melbourne composite layout.

The course has been reduced to a par-71, making the 10th hole a par 4, something Els called a "good move."

Last year, Els opened with a 60 in perfect scoring conditions. His round could've been lower, but he missed birdie putts on the
final two holes.

Then he shot a 2-over 74 in the final round, when a northerly
breeze was blowing. He won by a shot over Adam Scott, who left a
birdie putt on the 18th inches short in his bid for a playoff.

"Last year, I had a perfect start, but I've also won this
tournament when I've come from behind and shot 65 on the final
day," Els said. "I hadn't seen a northerly since the Presidents
Cup in 1998. It caught me off guard. On the front nine, I shot a
42. But I had a great back nine."

Els doubts he or anyone else will threaten to shoot 59 again at
Royal Melbourne.

Last year, in the opening round, more than 90 golfers in the
field of 156 broke par and 50 shot 69 or better in the ideal

"How many times do you get a chance to shoot 59, but I had a
golden chance last year," Els said of his course-record 60. "I
bogeyed 15, birdied 16 but couldn't get a birdie on the last two

"If you had one or two chances a year, you're doing very well.
I had a chance at the Sony, I shot a 62 on a par 70, and looking
back, I missed four putts from eight to 10 feet."

But Els says those occasions are rare.

"You have freaky days, when the weather is right and the greens
are receptive and the pin positions aren't tough," he said. "When
you find the putts are going in, you try to take advantage of it,
and that's what I did.

"But I can't see anyone breaking that score on this golf
course. There is too much that can happen."

Woods is not entered in Melbourne. His next start is expected to
be in the Match Play Championship later this month in Carlsbad,