After enduring more than his share of tough breaks in recent years, everything finally came together for Ernie Els Sunday as he rallied for a one-stroke victory in the Honda Classic.
Starting the final round three shots off the lead, Els closed with a 3-under-par 67 to win with a 6-under 274 at PGA National's Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The victory was the first for Els in nearly four years on the PGA Tour, snapping a 0-for-47 skid.
Els' last victory came in the 2004 World Golf Championship-American Express Championship. The Big Easy's last win on American soil was in the 2004 Memorial.
"I guess we get addicted to that feeling and when you don't get your rush, so to speak, you miss it," Els said in a press conference following his victory. "I definitely missed winning over here. The fans have been wonderful — really supportive wherever I've gone throughout the United States."
The victory was worth $990,000 for Els, who captured his 16th career PGA Tour title. He also gained some ground on his three-year plan to become the No. 1-ranked player in the world, moving past Steve Stricker into the No. 3 position in the world rankings behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
After winning the Honda Classic, Els was asked how he'd measure his progress in overtaking Woods, a goal the South African announced last year.
"I didn't realize that Tiger was going to win 10 times since I said that," Els said, drawing laughter from the reporters on hand. "I definitely said it because I really needed something, some kind of a goal for me. I am 38 right now and I can quite easily go and enjoy my kids and go build golf courses and stuff, but I really still want to achieve a lot in the game and I still want to win a lot.
"I just felt that's the kind of goal for me to really strive for and practice for. So I'm not sure where I am right now, but we'll see."
If nothing else, the win was a confidence-builder for Els, who has dealt with some crushing losses recently.
Els blew a four-shot lead and wilted at the finish as Woods rallied to win last month's Dubai Desert Classic. Last year, Boo Weekley chipped in twice in the final two holes to deny Els a victory at the Verizon Heritage
This time, it was Els making the big comeback.
"It has to feel even sweeter, losing so many tournaments and now actually one going my way," Els said.
Mark Calcavecchia was tied with Els at the par-3 15th hole before hitting a chip shot out of the bunker that failed to stay on the green and rolled into the water. Calcavecchia wound up with a double bogey, giving the lead to Els.
However, Els remained on the practice range hitting balls until he was informed that the birdie chip by runner-up Luke Donald had missed. Donald, who had tied for the first-round lead, posted his best PGA Tour finish since ending second in the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii, despite shooting 1-over 71 Sunday to finish at 5-under 275.
Nathan Green matched Els' final-round 67 and shot 4-under 276 to place third. Calcavecchia, Robert Allenby and Matt Jones all tied for fourth at 3-under 277.
Donald said he certainly wasn't surprised to see Els back in the winner's circle.
"I think Ernie is one of the most solid, best swings on Tour," Donald said. "I think he's one of the best golfers I've ever played with.
"It's surprising that he hasn't won for so many years on this tour. You know, maybe this win will open up the floodgates a little bit."
March 3, 2008
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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