4 March 2008
After enduring a winless drought of almost three-and-a-half years on the US PGA Tour, South Africa’s Ernie Els finally added another win on American soil by coming back from three shots off the pace after three rounds to claim the Honda Classic on the Champion Course at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Sunday.
Writing on his website after winning, Els said: “Trust me, I definitely missed winning over here on the PGA Tour, so this is a great feeling. It was a really wonderful week, never shooting over par on a very, very difficult golf course. That too gave me a lot of satisfaction.”
Rated the third toughest course on the PGA Tour in 2007, the Champion Course at the PGA National Resort and Spa sternly tested the players, and windy conditions on Sunday that made scoring low difficult in the final round.
Els’ achievement of never going over par in the tournament was indeed noteworthy; only one other player, Robert Allenby, who finished on three-under, managed it.
The victory brought to an end a long wait for Els, whose last wins in the US had come in the 2004 season when he won the Sony Open and The Memorial.
For a man with over 60 wins worldwide, it had been an interminable wait, but tasting victory again was ever so sweet.
Having completed his final round, Els had to wait to see what the remaining golfers on the course would do before his victory was confirmed.
‘This one feels special’
“When they eventually told me I’d won,” he wrote, “it was a mixture of relief and excitement. I’ve won more than 60 tournaments around the world, but this one feels special.”
Heading into the final round, there was a three-way tie for the lead between England’s Luke Donald and the USA’s Mark Calcavecchia and Matt Jones. They were on six-under-par 214 with Els on three-under-par 217 after rounds of three-under 67 and successive level-par 70s.
However, the South African superstar quickly made a move, with an outward nine holes that featured four birdies – on the first, fourth, fifth, and seventh – to take him to seven-under for the tournament.
He was set to finish the event on that score before he bogeyed the 17th, leaving him with an anxious wait to see whether his 67, which left him on six-under-par 274 for the tournament, would be enough.
It was a nervous time for the man known as “the Big Easy”.
He wrote: “To be honest, having signed my card I really didn’t want to sit there and watch the last few holes on television. The last time I did that was when Boo Weekley chipped in twice on 17 and 18 at Hilton Head last year to beat me. So this time I went to hit some balls instead.you know, stay focused just in case there was a playoff.”
One by one, Els’ challengers fell by the wayside.
Calcavecchia was tied with Els before he dropped two shots on the 15th, when he pitched out of a bunker and his ball slid across the green before coming to rest on a rocky ledge.
Jones was at six-under, but a bogey at the 15th and a double-bogey at the 17th took him out of contention.
Donald, meanwhile, fell off the pace by carding back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th. He pulled on back with a birdie at the 16th, but a chip for birdie on the 18th came up short, leaving Els to savour victory.
Els’ win was worth a cool US$990 000 – comfortably over R7.7-million – which is ample testament that “to the winner goes the spoils”.
The victory also lifted him one place in the world rankings to number three, above Steve Stricker and trailing only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“This one feels sweet, I can tell you,” Els remarked.
“I said before the start of the Honda Classic that a win is what I needed in order to really kick-start my year, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. Being up there last week, in the mix, feeling the heat and knowing that I can pull off the shots under pressure, that is what it’s all about.
“It’s amazing what a win does for your confidence.”
Honda Classic Leaderboard
- Ernie Els 67 70 70 67, 274
- Luke Donald 64 74 66 71, 275
- Nathan Green 71 70 68 67, 276
- Robert Allenby 69 68 70 70, 277
- Matt Jones 66 67 71 73, 277
- Mark Calcavecchia 70 67 67 73, 277
- Mathew Goggin 71 70 68 69, 278
- John Mallinger 68 67 73 70, 278
- Alex Cejka 69 71 68 70, 278
- Michael Letzig 70 69 68 71, 278
- Retief Goosen 73 70 71 73, 287
- Tiger Woods (USA)
- Phil Mickelson (USA)
- Ernie Els (South Africa)
- Steve Stricker (USA)
- Adam Scott (Australia)
- KJ Choi (South Korea)
- Justin Rose (Britain)
- Jim Furyk (USA)
- Rory Sabbatini (South Africa)
- Padraig Harrington (Ireland)