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ELS DOMINATES BACK NINE, TIES RECORD FOR 36 HOLES

Ernie Els waded into the thick kikuyu rough on the right side of the 17th fairway about 20 yards short of the green and faced what he called "a simple little chip."

All he had to do was pop it out of the rough over a trap to a pin cut tight to the trap side. And that's exactly what he did, knocking it to 2 feet.That he could trivialize such a shot shows how much Els dominated the back nine at Riviera Country Club on Friday in the PGA Championship. That he could trivialize the shot shows how much talent the 25-year-old South African possesses.

That final birdie of the day at No. 17 gave Els a 65 and put him at 11-under-par 131 midway through the PGA Championship, a record-tying 36-hole score matched hours later by Mark O'Meara, who shot a 67.

"You could really fly the ball at the flags," Els said. "But the weekend is where everything is going to start happening. On the weekend you've got to start watching the other guys."

The dizzying display of birdies over the helpless Riviera course left a slew of players within striking distance of the leaders. And the way the course has yielded low scores, someone back in the pack could easily leap up the leaderboard.

Justin Leonard was three strokes behind the co-leaders at 134, while knotted at 135 were Greg Norman, Colin Montgomerie, Steve Elkington, Brian Claar and Jeff Maggert.

Six more players, including Lee Janzen and first-round leader Michael Bradley, were at 136, putting 12 players within five strokes of the lead.

With the greens and fairways still so soft the players could stick the ball wherever it landed, par remained only a vague reference point, a minimum suggestion rather than a standard of excellence.

Unless the greens dry out dramatically - and it hasn't been that hot - there seems to be nothing short of making the cups smaller that could make Riviera play more difficult. Nothing except the intensity of the weekend rounds of a major championship where the players go head-to-head.

"Now we are all on the same firm greens," Norman said, referring to the fact that all of the leaders will play the last two rounds paired together in the afternoon. "We're all on the same starting block. Now let's see what happens over the next 36 holes," said Norman, who got to 7-under-par with a 45-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that gave him a 69.

Over the first 36 holes, Riviera put up little resistance. The 131 by Els and O'Meara tied the 36-hole PGA Championship mark set by Hal Sutton here in 1983 and Vijay Singh at Inverness in 1993.

O'Meara got his share of the lead with two birdies on the last three holes. He rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 16 and then closed out his round with a 14-footer of the difficult 18th hole.

Among those not in contention and missing the cut were British Open champion John Daly and U.S. Open winner Corey Pavin, who has won the last two Nissan Opens on this course.

Els started his round by knocking a 4-iron second shot on the 503-yard, par-5 first hole to 8 feet and rolling it in for an eagle. He gave that stroke back with a bogey on the fifth hole, but then dominated the back nine.

Four of his five birdie putts on the back side were from 8 feet or less as he cruised to an effortless 31.

Bradley, the 29-year-old unknown whose 63 on Thursday's matched the lowest score ever in a major championship, almost fell out of contention early, making consecutive double bogeys on No. 4 and 5, but he played the rest of the way in at 1-under.