Els ends two-year drought
Ernie Els bounced back into the big time on Sunday when he ended two years without a win at the WGC-CA Championship.
Ernie Els bounced back into the big time on Sunday when he ended two years without a win at the WGC-CA Championship in Miami.
The 40-year-old captured the second of this season’s world championships – and his 63rd professional title – by a commanding four-shot margin after what developed into a straight head-to-head with his fellow South African Charl Schwartzel.
Three strokes further back in joint third were German Martin Kaymer, American Matt Kuchar and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, whose closing 72 was never going to give him a chance on a day of low scoring.
With the win Els returns to the world’s top 10, a place where he has spent more weeks – 759 now – than any other player since the rankings started in 1986.
“I’ve had a tough run and I really wanted to play well,” he said after a 66 gave him an 18 under par total on the same Doral course where he held off Tiger Woods to win the 2002 Genuity Championship.
“I just wanted to prove it myself for once. I had to really trust the changes I’ve just made. The wind was blowing and you had to hit solid shots.
“Charl came at me all day and I have to take a lot of positives out of this.”
It was his second victory in the event. Under former sponsor American Express he lifted the title at Mount Juliet in Ireland in 2004.
Seven times over the weekend Schwartzel, twice a winner on his home country already this year, drew level with the man he has literally looked up to since he was a youngster.
The 25-year-old rising star could never get his nose in front, however, and the crucial moments came on the 14th and 15th.
First Els saved par from 24 feet to stay one in front and then, when both were bunkered at the short next, Schwartzel arrived to find his ball plugged.
He went from there into the same back bunker Els had found and although both got up and down from there the gap was two.
Schwartzel almost hit the hole with his approach to the 16th, but left an 11-foot birdie attempt short and when he bogeyed again on the next after Els had birdied from five feet there was only one place the £925,000 first prize was going.
It makes Els the leading career money-winner on the European Tour again, taking him ahead of Colin Montgomerie with more than £21million.
Harrington, who fell out of the reckoning with a hat-trick of bogeys from the 13th, said: “I obviously struggled a bit all day.
“Those three holes were pretty simple up and downs and I didn’t make them. I was hanging on a knife-edge all day, but I learnt a few things – as you always do in these situations.
“My bunker play was just not with it and my pitching could have been a bit better. You don’t really see it until you are under pressure.
“I’m happy – I need to be competing and testing myself.”
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell fired a closing 66 to climb from 16th to joint sixth with England’s Paul Casey, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, American Bill Haas and little-known Australian Alistair Presnell.
“I never thought for one second I could get into the hunt, but this is a great boost for me,” said the player who was in danger of falling outside the world’s top 50.
Casey has now finished second, fourth and sixth in his last three starts in America, but needed to win to have a chance of moving to a career-best second in the world.
Earlier, Ian Poulter gave his confidence another shot in the arm with a brilliant closing 64, the joint best round of the tournament.
With no chance of winning when he resumed joint 62nd of the 68 players, the World Match Play champion opened with a 54-foot eagle putt and then had seven birdies – the same as Rory McIlroy had all week.
Poulter, who nearly pulled out before the start on Thursday because of a neck strain, has only twice scored lower on the US Tour.
“I’d struggled all week, but today I came out, felt good and was hitting it 20 yards further, maybe 30,” said the world number five.
“It was frustrating to get the start I did, but I feel my golf game is in shape and I can prepare for The Masters the best I’ve ever prepared.”
McIlroy is spending the next three days at Augusta after finishing a desperately disappointing week with a third successive 73 and a seven over total.
Only England’s Oliver Wilson and Australian Michael Sim ended up below the 20-year-old.
McIlroy has been battling the recurrence of a back problem for the last six weeks, but at least that was better in his final round.
He then headed off to see the Miami Heat basketball team for the second time in three days and joked: “It’s about the only thing that’s making me smile.
“I just didn’t have it and haven’t had it for the last couple of weeks. I’ve a few issues to sort out when I get home.
“The back isn’t worrying me, but it’s getting me down.”
He intends to ease off on the physio work, at least for a while, saying: “Half of it is probably mental. I’m starting off in a negative mood.”
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