Just because the public generally isn't all that interested, what with the absence of Tiger Woods, doesn't mean this golf season isn't interesting. In fact, there seems to be a good story every week.

           Yesterday's was as good as any. Ernie Els ended his two-year drought in the U.S. with a win at Doral, which is no small tournament. He showed that his game still has life and that he is a force to be reckoned with in the majors this year, having finished second at three of those venues and tied for fourth in the other one.

          What's more, he did it with a hot putter, always a good sign that a resurgence is for real. And he turned back a challenge from protege Charl Schwartzel, a potential star who came up through Els' junior academy and stayed in Els' home for nine days recently.

           Els isn't Woods in terms of cachet, but he is a very popular golfer, one whom people just enjoy rooting for. That he has enough confidence to win a big event makes the season that much more compelling.

            "I didn't think it was ever going to happen again," Els said.

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           His triumph was just the latest in what would have qualified as a very eventful season had not Woods obscured everything else in the sport. There was the controversy about square grooves and the brief Ping Eye2 exemption, Scott McCarron's charge that Phil Mickelson was cheating and the subsequent apology, the instant dominance of Fred Couples on the Champions Tour that made senior golf cool again, the win by Camilo Villegas on the week he began with a commute from his native Colombia (promoting a tournament there), the "retirement" of John Daly, the emergence of young stars such as Rickie Fowler, who caught heat for laying up when he had a chance to win. Also, there were victories by potential major contenders Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan.

           PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said yesterday that there have been many issues he has dealt with this year, but added that one overrides them all. He is asked "300 times a day" when Woods will come back, and he says that is a positive because it indicates the interest.