MELBOURNE: Ernie Els blew an eight-shot lead but hung on to win the Heineken Classic by a stroke after a gripping head-to-head with Adam Scott yesterday.
World No 3 Els, who began the day with a seemingly insurmountable eight-shot cushion, carded a two-over 74 to finish on 20-under 268 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
Australia’s Scott had edged to within a stroke of the lead when he made a 35-foot birdie putt at the par-four 17th, where Els parred.
South African Els narrowly missed his 40-foot birdie putt at the last and tapped in for par, leaving Scott with a 20-footer for birdie to take the tournament into a playoff.
“I thought I was going to make it. It was right on line. I just didn’t hit it hard enough,” said 23-year-old Scott, a winner on the European Tour in each of the last three years but yet to break his duck on Australian soil.
Scott, who shot 34 on the front nine to draw level with Els who struggled to a six-over 42, closed with a 33 on the inward nine, his final-round 67 leaving him at 19-under 269.
Australia’s Peter Fowler, 44, an Australian Open winner 21 years ago, returned a 70 for third place at 15-under 273.
Sweden’s Peter Hanson fired a 71 to secure fourth while New Zealand’s Michael Campbell, a two-times winner of the Heineken Classic, carded a 70 to tie for fifth with Briton Stephen Gallacher (70) at 13-under 275.
Els, 34, became the first player to win the US$1.54milevent for three successive years.
“It was all going wrong. It was one bad break after another,” Els said of his outward 42, which included one birdie, four bogeys and a triple-bogey seven at the 412-yard fourth hole. “It was a tough day, but I played all right on the back nine.
“I played one really bad shot on four,” added Els, who hit his second shot through the green into a bunker.
His escape from the sand rolled through the front of the green before his fourth shot, a chip back on to the green, rolled back down to his feet, from where he chipped and two-putted for a seven.
“There is no sand on that bunker at the back of the green and that really threw me off. I made seven there,” he said.
“Then on nine (bogey six) ... I was thinking what’s going on here? It was just unbelievable.
“My eight-shot lead was gone in nine holes. I don’t know how I brought it back, but I did. It was tough. I’ve learnt a lot from this. I let it slip and Adam played wonderfully, he hung in there. At the end, it was just not quite enough.”
Before yesterday’s struggle, Els had completed a 54-hole return of 22-under 194, leaving him on track to eclipse his European Tour record of 29 under for 72 holes, set at last year’s Johnnie Walker Classic at Lake Karrinyup in Perth, Western Australia. – Reuters
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