Els coasts to victory

 

South Africa's Ernie Els posted a course record 63 in the final round of the Sun City Challenge here Sunday to win the tournament offering the richest prize in world golf for the third time in four years.

The "Big Easy", who won the British Open this year, finished with a 21-under-par aggregate of 267 at Gary Player Country Club to collect the winner's cheque of two million dollars.

He was eight strokes clear of second-placed Colin Montgomerie of Scotland who closed with a 67 for 275.

American Chris DiMarco was third on 278 following a 70 and South Africas Retief Goosen, who holed a 186-metre shot from the fairway for a birdie three at the last, and American Jim Furyk were joint fourth on 281.

Els's 63 in searing heat included a putt from off the green at 17 for a birdie three and a chip-in birdie three at the 18th.

He was out in 33 and home in just 30 strokes, with nine birdies altogether.

"I was a bit tense on the front nine but didnt make any big mistakes. On the back nine both Colin and I played really well. I think we had 11 birdies between us," said an elated Els.

"I dont think Ive ever shot 63 in a final round before as tournament leader when the pressure is on. Except for a major, I cant think of anything better than winning in front of my home crowd."

He gave credit to Montgomerie "who hung in there after making an eight on the very first hole of the tournament." The win put the cap on what has probably been the best season in Elss 13 years as a professional.

In the course of 2002 he has won in Australia (the Heineken Classic), America (the Genuity Championship), the Middle East (the Dubai Desert Classic), Europe (The Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland and the World Matchplay at Wentworth) and now Africa.

Els has enjoyed a fantastic record in the Sun City Challenge, especially in the last four years.

Victory in 1999 with a record 25-under-par aggregate of 268 was followed by a second straight win in 2000 when he defeated Lee Westwood in a playoff after the players had tied on 268.

Last year Els and Sergio Garcia both scored 268, with the young Spaniard defeating the big South African with a chip-in birdie at the first extra hole.

Elss last 28 rounds in the tournament have all been under par.

Since his debut in the tournament in 1992, Els has altogether earned 6.5 million dollars on the Sun City course. Said Montgomerie of Els: "Ernie was unbelievable and you can't do anything about it when a player is in that kind of form. The hole was like a bucket for him.

"For myself, to start the tournament with a quadruple-bogey eight and end up finishing second was very satisfying."