Ernie Els rejuvenated his stalled career with an emphatic record seventh victory in the final of the World Match-Play Championship on Wentworth’s West Course on Sunday.
A combination of inspired putting and creative scrambling saw the South African overwhelm Angel Cabrera of Argentina six and four to claim the million-pound winner’s cheque.
”This has been a very important win to myself and my career,” he said after collecting the now familiar trophy. ”It’s absolutely a dream come true and I would never have thought in my wildest dreams that I could win this tournament seven times.
”Yesterday, against Henrik [Stenson], was a really tough match and I wasn’t at my best, but for some reason today it was all there, especially this afternoon.”
It was only Els’s second European Tour victory of 2007 and the 24th of his career, but his recent form has been inconsistent as he has struggled to shake off the lasting effects of a knee injury sustained two years ago on a sailing holiday.
”I’ve played well the last two years,” he said. ”It may seem like I’m a patient guy, but I’m quite impatient when it comes to getting results and they haven’t come my way. But to get a win is satisfying and hopefully this will open up some doors for me.
”The world number one, Tiger [Woods], is out there, but I just want to keep playing this way.”
With 12 birdies in the 32 holes played, it was Els’s short game that made the difference.
The 37-year-old, whose season to date has been one of near-misses and frustration, immediately took control in the morning round of the 36-hole final.
He won the opening hole and then reached the turn in 31, three up on Cabrera, the United States Open champion, after pitching in on the ninth for his fourth birdie in seven holes.
An increasingly frustrated Cabrera might have thought his luck had turned on the par-five 12th, when a wayward Els conceded the hole after his third shot ended up in the water.
But a 35-foot putt on the 14th restored the South African’s three-hole lead and another putt, from the edge of the 15th green, toppled into the hole to secure an unlikely half.
That spell of play summed up Cabrera’s day, as the Argentinian struggled to find the accuracy that had taken him to the final. Els went into the second 18 holes three up and soon increased his advantage to four after Cabrera’s stuttering form saw him bogey the par-four third.
Although Cabrera reduced his deficit by the turn and stood on the 10th tee, the 28th hole of the day, two down on Els, his inconsistency, allied to three further birdies from the South African, finally proved too much.
”I have had a great week and played well, but it wasn’t enough today,” Cabrera, who graciously conceded defeat on the par-three 14th, said. ”Ernie played very well. He is the king of Wentworth. He knows the course like his own backyard, so he is very comfortable here.”
Els appeared to agree. ”I wish I could move Wentworth around the world with me because I know the greens so well,” he said.
With the famous Mark MacCormack trophy under his arm, Els was intent on making a quick getaway to Luton airport where his private Gulfstream jet was waiting to whisk him away to Paris to watch South Africa play Argentina in the Rugby World Cup.
Even so, Els still had one thought for his chances of reacquainting himself with the very summit of the world rankings. ”This win definitely helps, but it’s been a tough road for me and my family. My wife has stood by me and it’s been a little difficult at times. But if I can play this good, I can give everybody in the world a game.” — Sapa-AFP