Els rounds off year in a class of his own : GOLF

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The Independent Online
Ernie Els completed one of the most successful seasons in golf when he won the Johnnie Walker World Championship at Tryall here yesterday. Els began the year with a resounding desert campaign in Dubai and ended it with a beach party.

The 25-year-old South African had jam for breakfast by the second morning while the rest were wiping egg off their faces. Els's shotgun start of 64, 64 gave him a six-stroke lead at the half-way stage and yesterday he finished six shots clear. Els playe d in 35 events in five continents this year and, in prize-money alone, he received nearly $3m (£1.9m). He won the Dubai Desert Classic, the United States Open Championship, the Toyota World Match Play, the Gene Sarazen World Open and now this. He was also

second in six tournaments.

Although his victory yesterday only moved him up one place, from seventh to sixth, in the Sony world rankings, the figure is false. At the moment nobody is stronger than Els and it seems only a question of time before he overtakes those in front.

Nick Faldo, who used to be the world No 1 and has dropped to third place, will have something to say about that next year. He and Els have both left the European Tour and in the new year, when they will be based in Florida, they will play most of their golf in America.

Yesterday Faldo, too, had an excellent finish to his year and was joint second here at 10 under par with Mark McCumber. Unlike Els, Faldo had not qualified for this championship on merit by winning a tournament with an asterisk in front of it. Nevertheless he hit form late in the season, missing out on the Dunhill Masters in Bali because of disqualification but making up for it with a front-running performance in Sun City where he won $1m. In Bali he was six strokes clear with six holes to play and thenleft the course because he moved a piece of coral from a bunker. This was unforgiveable for everybody knows that in Bali, under a local rule, you don't mess with coral, especially in a bunker.

It seemed the only way Els was going to be beaten here was if he ignored the local rule, coined by a Montego Bay habitue, Noel Coward, about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun. Els even gave his insurance company nightmares by participating in a game of beach cricket on Friday evening. He smacked a few balls into the Johnnie Walker pavilion (onside) and a few more into the Caribbean (offside).

Els, a natural sportsman, gave an indication of his ability when he set a course record of 61 over the Emirates course in Dubai and led from start to finish, leaving Greg Norman as runner-up. Els failed to establish a course record here - that distinction went to Paul Azinger with a 62 in the third round - but he did everything else right. Els won $550,000, Faldo and McCumber $250,000 each. Carl Mason and Fuzzy Zoeller, who enjoyed a chat and a smoke as they strolled around Tryall in the final round, were paired together and finished, by coincidence, joint last on 294, 10 over par, 26 strokes behind Els. Mason and Zoeller won $52,500 each. At least Vijay Singh avoided the ignominity of coming last here, thereby ruling himself out of an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the richest failure in sport. Singh finished last in Sun City a couple of weeks ago and won $100,000. He was second from last here and won $54,000.

Els, who could afford to take it easy over the last two rounds here, had three birdies and a bogey yesterday but still nobody got close enough to worry him. "Next year is going to be tough because people will expect me to play well and be in contention all the time," Els said. When you hit a golf ball with such strength and finesse people are entitled to think that they are watching the next great contestant.

Els does not have a car and with the air miles he has been clocking up he doesn't need one. Since October he has done more than 30,000 miles and has won so much dosh it works out at $4,300 per mile. In a ratio of earnings, that is on a par, or better, than Damon Hill, Linford Christie and Desert Orchid.

JOHNNIE WALKER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Montego Bay, Jamaica) Final scores: 268 E Els (SA) 64 64 71 69 (£351,932). 274 M McCumber (US) 67 70 70 67; N Faldo (GB) 67 67 73 67 (£159,969 each). 275 B Faxon (US) 72 70 69 64; P Azinger (US) 71 74 62 68; I Woosnam (GB) 70 68 69 68 (£68,253 each). 276 J Maggert (US) 68 72 70 66; D Gilford (GB) 71 64 73 68; B Langer (Ger) 70 70 68 68. 277 R Allenby (Aus) 69 71 69 68; C Montgomerie (GB) 67 74 67 69. 278 T Lehman (US) 69 65 75 69; N Price (Zim) 71 67 68 72. 283 D Frost (SA) 70 71 74 68; S Ballesteros (Sp) 73 72 65 73. 285 T Kite (US) 71 73 68 73. 286 J Huston (US) 73 73 70 70; L Roberts (US) 68 71 76 71; F Couples (US) 73 65 75 73; C Parry (Aus) 72 71 69 74. 291 L Mize (US) 70 78 74 69. 292 V Singh (Fiji) 75 75 73 69.

294 F Zoeller (US) 73 74 74 73; C Mason (GB) 70 74 76 74.