'Impressive' Els certainly on Woods' radar screen

Updated: February 17, 2003, 12:10 AM ET

SAN DIEGO -- Even as Tiger Woods was making his victorious 2003 debut by winning the Buick Invitational, the success of South Africa's Ernie Els was catching his attention.

Tiger Woods

Ernie Els

The world No. 2 has won five of the last six tournaments he has entered and finished runner-up in the other after blowing a one-shot lead at the last hole.

Els earned his latest victory at the European Tour's Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia on Sunday, winning by a massive 10 shots.

"Ernie winning again, that's pretty impressive," Woods told reporters after his four-shot victory at the Buick. "He's putting up some great scores, great numbers.

"Everybody makes a big deal of how far he's hitting it. But you can hit it 400 yards but you've still got to make putts.

"He's making every single putt inside 12 feet and that's what you have to do in order to win tournaments. You have to make those big putts.

"He's hitting his irons, I wouldn't say stiff on every hole, but he's hitting it close enough, but you can still miss those putts," Woods said.

"He's going up there and burying each and every one of them. The putts, they are not just going in, but they are going in with perfect pace.

"That's when you know you've got a great feel for how things are going."

In the only tournament Els did not win this year, the Singapore Masters, he finished second by a single shot to China's Zhang Lian Wei.

Woods and Els will be in competition at the World Match Play Championship later this month in California and the following week in the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic, although each has said that in the event of war between the U.S. and Iraq, neither will travel to Dubai.

Two weeks after Dubai, Woods and Els are scheduled to play in the PGA Tour's Bay Hill Invitational and the Players Championship, both in Florida.

Following a one-week break, the pair will face one another again in the Masters, where Woods will seek a record third successive title.