Ernie Els back on top

In only his second tournament following a five-month injury break, Ernie Els returned to the winner’s enclosure at the Dunhill Championship on Sunday.

Els may have coughed and spluttered through the early rounds at the par-72 Leopard Creek golf course this week, but class and experience told in the final round.

While all around him opponents were treading in quicksand, Els fired a solid four-under-par 68 on Sunday for a 14-under-par total of 274.

That gave him a three-shot cushion over last year’s winner, Charl Schwartzel, and Louis Oosthuizen.

Overnight leader Ulrich van den Berg had a dire finish to his tournament, dropping eight shots in the final 10 holes after holding a three-shot lead through the eighth.

“I think it was my experience that helped me pull this one off, but I really feel for Ulrich, “said Els. “He was so relaxed and putting so well that after eight holes I turned to [my caddie] Simon [Masilo] and said I didn’t know how we were going to catch him.

“But then the wheels came off a little bit and that opened the door for me.
But he is a great golfer and a true gentleman and I really admire the way he kept his composure. I’m not sure that I could have behaved that way under the circumstances.”

Els takes away a cheque of R1 180 825 for his third victory at this event, having captured the title in 1995 at Wanderers and in 1999 at Houghton.

This tournament has been co-sanctioned with the European Tour since 1996 and this was Els’s 22nd win on that Tour.

While he had prepared well for this event, Els admitted that he was not sure whether he could win.

“It might come across a bit cocky if you say you are going to win, considering my circumstances. But I was hitting the ball well enough to have a chance.”

However, it looked as if he would play second fiddle to Van den Berg until the 11th when the Pecanwood professional hit his tee shot into the rough. He ended up with a triple bogey and that brought the pair level. But after dropping another shot at the par-three 12th, while Els birdied 13, the world number five extended his lead to two shots.

Any hope Van den Berg had of a comeback dissipated at the par-three 16th when he dropped his tee shot into the water. That put Els four shots up with just two to play and the engraver was already etching his name on the trophy.

“I could have scored better on the back nine, but I was just concentrating on making mistakes,” said Els.

His round comprised five birdies—on holes one, two, six, 13 and 15—and just one bogey, at the par-three seventh.

Van den Berg was naturally crest-fallen after the round.

“I just melted down. I hit a bad tee shot on 11 and lost a lot of confidence after that.”

Els once again cast doubt on whether he would play the South African Open at Fancourt from Thursday.

“Every day I put ice on my knee and take anti-inflammatories. If it gets worse, I’m not going to risk playing next week. If it gets better, I will definitely play.”—Sapa