Els strikes it rich with play-off win

 

Ernie Els won $2 million with one putt and successfully defended his title in the Sun City Challenge. The putt in question came at the second play-off hole and relegated Lee Westwood to the second place prize of a mere $300,000.

"I've seldom in my life had a feeling like that", said Els, "So I guess you could say that money does talk. I don't know how I took the putter back. I knew it was inside right, but to hit it there . . . hell, I'm still shaking."

A magnanimous Westwood said, "I'm not really disappointed because I haven't really played that well. I haven't had my A game with me, but my putting has kept me in contention. Anyway, England beat the Springboks yesterday and it's always great to be in South Africa when they lose."

Els had fought his way into the playoff by birdying two of the last three holes in regulation play after Westwood had set the pace with a 20 under par return and a final round of 66, six under par.

At the short 16th, the first playoff hole, Els hit the cup with his putt but it refused to drop, Westwood missed on the right.

At the par four 17th Els hit an eight iron to four feet to put the pressure on Westwood. The Englishman was too aggressive with a 10-foot putt and could only watch as Els rolled his in to annex the largest individual prize ever in golf.

He said, "In terms of nerves it's comparable to a major championship."

"Now I know how Tiger must feel every week, because when everybody is pulling for you it gives you confidence and energy for the game. Having said that, when I stood over my putt on 18 my mind wanted to be aggressive, but my body said no!"

Els made the worst possible start by bogeying the first hole, but got it back with a birdie at the next.

From there his round stubbornly refused to ignite, although he holed a 35foot birdie putt on the eighth and birdied the long 10th.

But Westwood knew he was in for a fight when roars from the crowd announced a birdie two at the 16th and a birdie three at the 17th.

Westwood birdied three of the first four holes, but a bogey at the third kept him among the chasing pack. He saved his best for the back nine where he made a birdie four at the 10th, lipped out on 11 and 12 and then birdied three holes in a row to climb to the top of the leaderboard through 15 holes.

The most remarkable birdie came at the par five 14th where he was in the front waste bunker in two, still in it in three and then holed his fourth. On the par four 15th he nearly holed his seven iron approach and tapped in for three.

It seemed to knock the stuffing out of his playing partner, Nick Price who was five under par for his round through 10 holes, but could only par in from there to finish one behind Westwood and Els at 19 under.

Overnight co-leader Thomas Bjorn fell off the bus with bogies at 11 and 13, but he finished with successive birdies to tie Price at 19 under.

Colin Montgomerie finished with a three-under-par 69, which included a double bogey seven at the 14th.

Westwood felt that his game lacked edge due to a misbehaving driver. He broke his favourite driver while practising at home last week and although he had it remade to the same specifications could not find it in himself to trust it at the Gary Player Country Club.

He will be hoping to have it back in working order at his next event which, coincidentally, will be back at Sun City in February where he is the defending champion in the Dimension Data Pro-Am.

He said, "Between now and then I'm going to find a new driver, buy some Christmas presents, lose a bit of weight and have a seven-week break which, after the year I've had, I think I probably deserve."