Golf: Elkington profits as Monster bites back

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The Independent Online
STEVE ELKINGTON has won 10 times on the PGA Tour, but never quite like this. In a span of two hours, he took three putts on the 18th green on the Blue Monster, kicked in the side of a scoring trailer, watched the back nine from his room at the resort, warmed up for a play-off and then accepted a first-place cheque for $540,000 (pounds 341,000) without hitting another shot. The Doral-Ryder Open might not have had its usual array of star names, but it rarely lacks drama. Sunday was no exception.

Despite a bogey on the final hole, Elkington won the Doral in a thrilling finish that he never saw. He was on the practice range preparing to go back out to No 18 for a play-off when the toughest closing hole on the PGA Tour swallowed up Ernie Els and Greg Kraft. "Thank goodness they had to play that hole," said Elkington, who finished at 13-under 275 for a one-stroke victory over Kraft. "It's a very dangerous hole."

It nearly always decides the champion at Doral, and Elkington was well aware of this when he stood over a five-foot putt for par, trying to cap a 63 that he felt certain would be enough to win.

"I wanted to send a message," he said. "I didn't want to see them go `Oh, he bogeyed the last. That's good.' I didn't want to leave any crumbs out there." But he did, and it was not long before Els and Kraft made a move. Els, trying to win his second straight 72-hole event on tour, scrambled from the sand for one par after another before converting one of only three birdie attempts on the back nine, a 12-footer on No 17 to tie.

Kraft, in the group behind, trying for his first official win on the PGA Tour, caught Elkington with a birdie on the 603-yard 12th, gave one back from the bunker on No 13 and rejoined the lead with a four-foot birdie on 17. Then the fun began.

Els was haunted by pulling everything left at the worst possible time. With just 154 yards to the flag at the last his eight iron landed in the rough near the red hazard line. Needing to get it close to save par and force a play-off, the chip failed to get up the hill and trickled back down to virtually the same position.

Next came Kraft. With a five-iron he caught the ball so fat that it fell a good 20 yards short of the green, but he saved bogey for a 71 and second place by himself.

Justin Rose needs to take a step back according to John Bickerton, who took second place in the Algarve Portuguese Open on Sunday. The pounds 44,000 collected lifted him to eighth on the Order of Merit and 13th in the Ryder Cup points table and brought his season's earnings to more than pounds 100,000.

It was the perfect demonstration of what the Challenge Tour has to offer - Bickerton earned his card for this season by finishing sixth overall on that tour last year. He believes that Rose needs the same experience to end a streak of 15 consecutive missed cuts since he turned professional after his fourth place in the Open last year.

"I feel sorry for Justin," said Bickerton after his Penina play-off loss to Van Phillips, another Challenge Tour graduate. "He's having to deal with a lot of pressure at such a young age. The Challenge Tour would not be a bad thing to experience.

"You get used to travelling around Europe week after week, playing 72- hole tournaments and building up your confidence. Once you've done that then you can build from there."