Els’ 63 edges him past Goosen for fifth title

ERNIE ELS claimed a fifth South African Open title after his final-round six-under-par 63 helped him edge out another former champion, Retief Goosen, by a shot.

Two rounds were played at the Durban Country Club yesterday after rain earlier in the week had washed out almost the entire first day, whilefurther showers in the early hours of yesterday morning delayed play and also made the par-three fourth green unplayable.

It meant that instead of 36 holes, only 34 were played making the par score 69 rather than 72. And three-time major winner Els, who fired a 64 earlier in the day, followed it up with another excellent display as he carded five birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end on 25 under overall.

He by no means cruised to victory, though, as Goosen rallied late on with four birdies in his last five holes. But the charge proved too late for the championship winner from 1995 and 2005, and despite emulating Els’s 63, he fell just short on 24 under overall.

Another major winner in reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen ended four stokes further back after a 63 in the final round, while rising youngster Charl Schwartzel (64) finished on 18 under to make it a top four for South Africa.

Robert Rock was the highest placed Englishman thanks to successive 64s that saw him end on 16 under to complete the top five at the co-sanctioned European and Sunshine tour event.

Els, who picked up a prize of €158,500 after securing his third title of the year, said: “It was a wonderful choice to come here. This really makes the year very good now. Playing under a lot of pressure, with really good players in the field on a great golf course. It was a great championship.”

The title added to his previous ones in 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2006 and was made even more special considering it came in the 100th playing of the tournament.

Els, 41, described playing two rounds in a day during such a big competition as an “incredible feeling”.

He continued: “I’ve been playing the game for quite some time, 20 years now as a professional player, and I’ve never had a day like that. I had a two shot lead at the start of the day and then after five holes I was three behind and then I was one up again after 18 holes. So it was just an incredible day.”

He also felt that securing an eagle on the par-five 14th hole was crucial in helping him edge out Goosen – a man whose two titles were won with Els as his main final-round rival. He added: “Obviously 14 was a big putt, making eagle there. I knew Retief was going to come, but I never thought he was going to do it at 16 and then he had a great finish. I think right from the start (it’s going to be a head-to-head). I knew Retief was going to be the guy I had to beat.

“Obviously Louis and Charl were there, but Retief was the main one. He’s beaten me coming down the stretch quite a few times, so I really wanted to play well. He made it really tough for me.”

Rookie Romain Wattel (65) ended on 16 under overall, along with Rock, while fellow Frenchman Victor Riu (66) and Alexander Cejka (65) were a further shot back.

Ireland’s only representative in Durban, Kells’ Damien McGrane, finished in a tie for 33rd after carding final rounds of 64 and 70 to end on seven under.

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