Els ends 2-year drought
DORAL, Fla. — They call him the "Big Easy" because of a graceful swing that looks as if it requires so little effort.
Ernie Els worked harder than ever yesterday to win the CA Championship.
Two years without a victory — the longest drought of his career — and playing with all the pressure against a South African protege whom he helped groom for such a stage, Els played the final 23 holes without a bogey on the Blue Monster and closed with a 6-under 66 for a four-shot victory over Charl Schwartzel.
Els looked every bit like his nickname as he sauntered toward the 18th green, raising his cap to the crowd with an easy smile. It was as much relief as it was satisfaction.
"I'm 40 years old. I've had a tough run," Els said. "Whew! The hairs are standing up. It's just great."
He returned to among the elite in golf at No. 8 in the world and became only the fifth player to win multiple times in the World Golf Championships, joining Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke, Geoff Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson.
It didn't come easily.
Els worked on his swing until twilight in the days leading up to Doral, then put it to the test in a final round that was far closer than the margin suggested. Schwartzel, a 25-year-old who took part in Els' junior program in South Africa, never backed down.
"This means so much," said Els, who won $1.4 million. "I didn't think it was ever going to happen again. But I felt all week that the work that I did, that I finally had to trust it at some stage, and there's no better day to really test yourself."
Els held a one-shot lead when he stood over a 25-foot par putt on the 14th hole, relieved to see it fall on the final turn. It was the pivotal moment in the tournament, the kind that Els had been missing since he won the Honda Classic two years ago.
"I haven't been making those kind of putts, and you have to make putts like that to win golf tournaments at some point," Els said. "I felt a lot better after that. I felt like maybe this one is for me this week."
Els finished at 18-under 270 to win for the 61st time worldwide, and 17th time on the PGA Tour.
Schwartzel, a houseguest of Els the last two weeks, caught a bad break on the 15th hole when his ball plugged in a front bunker, and he knocked that into a back bunker on his way to a crucial bogey. He missed short putts on the next two holes and closed with a 70.
"All credit to Ernie. He played flawless golf today," said Schwartzel, who earned $850,000 and will be able to take up PGA Tour membership next year. "I thought I played really good, gave a good charge. I was on his heels all the time."
Padraig Harrington fell out of contention with three straight bogeys on the back nine, closing with a 72 to tie for third at 11-under 277 along with Matt Kuchar (68) and Martin Kaymer of Germany, who had a 69.
Women's Australian Open: Taiwan's Yani Tseng won in Melbourne yesterday, birdieing seven of the last 12 holes for a bogey-free 7-under 66 and a three-stroke victory over 2009 winner Laura Davies.
Tseng had a 9-under 283 total on the Commonwealth Golf Club course.
Karrie Webb, the four-time winner who won her seventh Australian Ladies Masters title last week, had a 74 to finish third at 287.
Puerto Rico Open: Chad Collins birdied the par-5 fifth hole for a share of the lead with Kevin Streelman just before third-round play was suspended because of darkness in the rain-delayed PGA Tour event at Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
Collins and Streelman were 12 under.
Derek Lamely, 7 under for 13 holes in the round, was a stroke back at 11 under with Steve Wheatcroft and Kris Blanks.
Dean Wilson, a Castle High alum, shot 75—143 to miss the third-round cut by one stroke. Pierre-Henri Soero, a former University of Hawai'i golfer, shot 75—147.