The main factor that separated Tiger Woods from the field, according to Ernie Els

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els have faced off in the same grouping 20 times in their PGA Tour careers, not to mention several more in international events or exhibitions. Most recently they squared off as captains of opposing Presidents Cup teams, when Woods’ U.S. side beat Els and the Internationals in 2019.

The point here, is that Ernie Els has played a lot of golf with Tiger Woods, making him the perfect candidate to give insight into what it’s like sharing a tee box with the 15-time major champion.

Els recently joined GOLF’s Subpar Podcast to discuss the debut event of the Icons Series, which kicks off Thursday at Liberty National with Els and Fred Couples as captains, but also dove into his own career, playing vs. Woods and more.

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One topic that came up: how was Woods different than the rest?

“People ask me this question a lot, is what separated Tiger from us? There’s a lot of things, but the one real factor was his intensity on the first tee,” Els said. “On the first tee you just want to get in the round and see how things are, testing out the waters of the competition. Hopefully by 4 or 5 you are even par or one under and get into the tournament. A lot of us were like that, but Tiger, he was different. On the first tee he was ready to go. He was ready to absolutely strangle the golf course and get to the field eventually and really take down the tournament. He wasn’t there to mess around. He didn’t play too many events but when he played he was ready to go.”

Els mentioned you could small talk Woods a little on the range or practice putting green before the round, but after that? No chance.

“He was absolutely focused on his job,” Els said. “That is one thing that separated him then and still separates him today. I don’t see that intensity from other competitors before the first round on the first tee.”

You can check out Els’ full podcast appearance below, in which he talks more about Woods, the most proud moments of his own career and more.

Josh Berhow Editor

As’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at