Golf: Els keeps his cool longest to land his first major title: Britain's Colin Montgomerie and the United States' Roberts miss out in US Open play-off

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THEY threw bogeys and double-bogeys at each other in their erratic quest to win the 94th US Open Championship as the agony was prolonged at Oakmont yesterday. For Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, the three survivors from the original field of 159, this, in the epicentre of a heatwave, was clearly a round too far.

In terms of winning major championships all three were rookies and the title eventually went to Els. He defeated Roberts in a sudden death play-off after they had finished 18 holes at three over par. Montgomerie dropped out after going round in 78, seven over par.

They kept their worst until last. Only the United States Golf Association favours an 18-hole play-off. The other three major championships are content, in the event of a tie, to let a sudden-death play- off determine the winner.

The USGA must have been eternally grateful to Roberts for keeping the Stars and Stripes flying. A play-off between a South African and a Scotsman in the middle of Pennsylvania would not have had quite as much pull at the box office. For the most part the golf over the front nine holes enabled spectators to identify with the game. It looked like a Saturday morning three ball with a fiver at stake rather than the blue riband of American golf with a total purse of dollars 1.5m ( pounds 1m).

Els, the 24-year-old South African, began yesterday morning as he began, and finished, the fourth round on Sunday when he squandered a two-shot lead. That is to say he hammered the ball into the deep rough on the left. On Sunday he received a free drop because a television tower was on his line of sight but yesterday he did not get that luxury. He put his approach into a bunker and opened with a bogey five.

At the second hole the spectators must have thought they were on a firing range. Els drove into the rough on the right, as did Montgomerie while Roberts smacked his ball into the rough on the left.

Els then went into a bush, took a penalty drop (in terms of taking drops he has set a US Open record in the last two days) and when he finally found the green he took three putts: a triple-bogey seven to stand at four over par. Montgomerie, for his part, landed on a bank at a bunker, duffed his chip and emerged with a double-bogey six. Roberts settled for a respectable bogey five.

Els birdied the next with a 30-footer and Montgomerie had another double-bogey six after driving into the rough. He also three putted. On Sunday Montgomerie said: 'I've been given a lifeline and now I've got to take advantage of it.'

He was and he didn't. He was referring to the fact that Roberts missed a four-foot putt at the 18th in the fourth round to join Montgomerie at five under for the championship and Els also had a bogey at the last.

Yesterday Montgomerie's touch, which had stood him in such good stead throughout the week, deserted him. At the sixth, for example, he had a five-foot putt for a birdie two, knocked it 10 feet past and missed that. The eighth was another comedy of errors. All three had bogeys and by the turn Montgomerie was out of it. He went out in 42, six over par, compared to a score of 38 posted by both Els and Roberts.

While Montgomerie had another double-bogey six on the 11th (rough, rough and a duffed chip) Els and Roberts kept each other company. Roberts took the lead with a five to Els's six at the 12th but they were neck and neck again when the South African had a par three at the 16th to the American's four.

At the penultimate hole (a par four of 315 yards) Els again attempted to drive the green and found the rough on the left. Roberts took a more cautious route with an iron off the tee but both birdied the hole, Roberts getting down from 15 feet, Els from eight. At the 18th, the hole which tripped them up on Sunday, Roberts went from the rough on the right to the rough on the left, played a great chip to about 10 feet and sank the putt; Els, safely on in two, left his putt five feet short and he made that.

They shook hands with Montgomerie and went to the 10th. Whether they liked it or not the USGA was now confronted with a sudden death play-off. At this point television coverage of the US Open in the US was interrupted by the appearance of O J Simpson in a criminal court in Los Angeles.

Roberts and Els both parred the 10th and at the 11th, the second extra hole, the issue was finally settled. Roberts' drive found the rough on the right from where he put his approach shot into a bunker. Els again found the heart of the green in two. Roberts was about 35 feet from the flag after coming out of the bunker and his putt to save par hit the hole but lipped out.

Els, from 15 feet, had two putts for the title and he made no mistake. He became only the fourth non-American since the Second World War to win the championship, following another South African, Gary Player, in 1965, Tony Jacklin in 1970 and the Australian David Graham in 1981.

Els won dollars 320,000 and his victory moved him to seventh place in the world rankings. Montgomerie, who was third in the US Open at Pebble Beach two years ago, said: 'I'm very disappointed, even more so when you know that the total required was 74. I thought the greens were slower than they had been in the earlier rounds and that threw me a bit.'