South Africa win EMC World Cup

 

Retief Goosen and Ernie Els won a four-way play-off to claim golf's World Cup for South Africa in a exhilarating finale to the three-million-dollar team event today.

A par four at the second extra hole was enough to edge out Denmark after Thomas Bjorn pushed his drive into the trees.

The US team of Tiger Woods and David Duval, the defending champions, mounted a sensational late challenge but finally had to settle for a share of third place with New Zealand. Both teams were eliminated at the first play-off hole, the par five 18th, after failing to match their rivals' birdie fours.

It was South Africa's fourth victory in the event since it began back in 1953 and for Goosen and Els, rivals and friends for nearly two decades, it was a particularly sweet triumph.

"We have been playing together for nearly 20 years," said Els, who had been without a win since last December's Sun City million dollar challenge.

"We have grown in the game together so it is a very special feeling to win a tournament with him and especially the World Cup."

Els won his first US Open title in a play-off in 1994 but has endured a string of near misses since then. "I think I have only won one or two play-offs since 1994 and I lost one at the Tour Championship a few weeks ago, so it was nice coming through."

It was Els' second World Cup title after his 1996 victory with Wayne Westner.

For Goosen, his share of the one million dollar first prize capped a sensational season which has seen him win his first major at the US Open in June, as well as pick up the Scottish Open and Madrid Open titles.

The dramatic climax to the tournament proved to be a painful letdown for both the American and New Zealand teams.

Kiwis Michael Campbell and David Smail had started the final round foursomes three strokes clear of the pack and could have clinched victory with a four at the last.

The Americans had appeared out of the running before a run of three birdies from the 15th was capped by an inspirational chip-in for eagle on the last by Woods.

But with the adrenalin still pumping, the world number one then hooked his tee-shot at the first play-off hole into the crowd, leaving Duval with no chance of reaching the green in two.

Ironically, the Woods eagle on the last would have been enough to clinch victory for the United States if it had not been for the shot they lost as a result of Duval being penalised on Friday for taking an illegal practice putt on the 16th green.

South Africa, whose challenge appeared to have faltered when Goosen missed a short putt to bogey the short 17th, also had to produce an eagle three on the par-five final hole to force their way into the play-off.

After Els had struck a drive straight down the middle, Goosen struck a five iron to within 10 feet of the pin and Els, whose putter had been red hot all day, sunk it to keep the South Africans chance of victory alive.

"I knew I had to go one way, straight at the flag," Goosen said of that shot.

It was however Goosen's approach to the same green in the first hole of the play-off, after Els had found sand, that most impressed his partner. "He had to hit from a bunker, under the trees and cut it with a two-iron. That was the shot of the tournament for us," Els said.

New Zealand saw their chance of winning in regulation play disappear when Campbell pulled their second shot to the left of the 18th green and Smail left the resulting chip well short of the pin.

At the first extra hole, Campbell's approach skimmed across the pond on the front right of the green and somehow stayed on the grass. However, Smail again fluffed his chip and left his partner with too much to do.

The South Africans, who started four shots behind New Zealand, had appeared set for another frustrating day on the greens when Els spurned a 10-foot birdie chance at the second and Goosen left a chip from the front of the third green 40-foot short of the pin.

But Els, who had struggled with his putter for the first three days, promptly holed the putt and the Springbok challenge was under way. Els pitched to three feet at the long sixth, holed a tricky downhill putt at the eighth and converted two more chances on the 12th and the short 13th to put them level with New Zealand and Denmark.

Goosen's miss at the 17th appeared to have undone all the good work only for the tide to turn dramatically again at the finish.