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Els Holds Off Tiger to Win Genuity

MIAMI (AP) _ Ernie Els watched Tiger Woods' long drives, the clutch putts and the fervent fist pumps. He heard the frenzied gallery and even felt the momentum shift in the final round of the Genuity Championship.

There was little he could do about it.

Woods nearly pulled off the biggest final-round comeback in PGA Tour history Sunday, turning an eight-stroke deficit into a shot-for-shot duel against Els on the Blue Monster at Doral.

The duel that Els never wanted turned into a victory he desperately needed when the 32-year-old South African withstood relentless pressure to win for the first time in 18 months on the PGA Tour.

``It's not a very comfortable feeling,'' Els said. ``He has wiped out leads like that before. When he gets on a roll, it's hard sometimes for him to hit a bad shot.''

Els closed with an even-par 72 for a two-stroke victory over Woods.

``I made him work for it,'' Woods said. ``Came up just a little bit short.''

Woods closed with a 66, playing the final 42 holes in blustery conditions without a bogey.

Els, who finished at 271 and earned $846,000, won for the first time on the PGA Tour since the International in 2000.

Woods made him earn this victory.

Woods wanted to cut the eight-shot deficit in half after nine holes. He did even better, pulling within three at the turn.

Woods wanted to trim the lead to one on the back nine. He did with a birdie on the 12th hole.

Woods wanted to pull off the largest comeback in tour history after 54 holes. He almost did.

He had a 40-foot eagle putt for a share of the lead on No. 12, but he settled for birdie. He didn't make another birdie, although he had three chances inside 15 feet.

``After nine holes, I felt like I had a chance,'' Woods said.

Els felt it, too.

With three groups backed up on the 10th tee, Els elected to sit on his bag just off the ninth green rather than wait with Woods on the tee box.

``It was getting tight,'' Els said. ``I don't know what I would have said to him. I don't know if I would have punched him or kicked him in the knees. We were very competitive. He's a good friend of mine, but I can say hello to him at some other time.''

The 20-minute delay didn't bother Woods _ he birdied two of the next three holes to pull to within a stroke. It did wonders for Els, allowing him to regroup.

The turning point was his 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th, right after Woods two-putted for birdie to get within a single shot, one that can be lost anywhere at any time on the Blue Monster.

``That was probably the winning putt for me,'' Els said. ``I felt like a different player after that. I felt a lot more in control.''

Even against Woods. Els has finished runner-up to Woods six times _ three more times than any other player.

There have been dramatic meetings, such as Kapalua two years ago when they matched eagles on the 18th hole to get into a playoff, which Woods won with a 40-foot birdie putt.

There have been blowouts, too, such as Woods winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots and the British Open by eight shots during his record-setting year in 2000.

But the one duel that came to mind Sunday was when Woods made up an eight-stroke deficit in the final round and beat Els in a playoff at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand four years ago.

``This would have been a difficult one to swallow,'' Els said.

He didn't buckle this time. Els made a terrific par save from 50 feet off the 14th green, and his swing held up under the pressure of the final four holes, all of them two-putt pars.

``I felt like I was watching him all day, and that's difficult when he's got momentum and I'm trying to find momentum,'' Els said. ``I'm happy I pulled this one off.''

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