Ames steers true course to impressive Players' victory

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Florida was anticipating an afternoon of high drama, with an all-singing, all-dancing leader board, but in the event it was treated to a one-man show. No, Stephen Ames was not the runaway winner anyone had been expecting, but his emphatic six-shot victory in the Players' Championship here in Florida yersterday was just as impressive as his story.

For this is the son of an English father who was born on the unfashionable golfing terrain of Trinidad, who has battled with authorities over passport problems before "becoming" Canadian two years ago, and who only last month suffered a record 9 and 8 matchplay defeat at the merciless hands of Tiger Woods. He has also had an all too close brush with tragedy.

Jodi Ames flew in to Orlando with their two young sons last night to congratulate her husband on what was quite easily the biggest win of his hitherto unremarkable career and after what they have been through that must have been some hug. Last July, the former air stewardess was operated on for cancer, having three-quarters of her lung taken out in the process.

Unsurprisingly, she is still on the mend, although the fact that she was able to travel from their home in Canada shows how markedly her health has improved. Just like her family's finances after yesterday.

Rarely has £750,000 been earned with so little fuss after the world No 65's round of 67 took him to 14-under, putting acres of daylight between himself and Retief Goosen in second. For from the moment this 41-year-old extended his one-shot overnight advantage with a birdie on the second there was no looking back and there was no looking nervous.

With his brother Robert on the bag, the Ames laughed their way around this most severe of final-day lay-outs, notching up five birdies and an eagle. Sure there was a hiccup on the 10th when Stephen double-bogeyed the 10th but that is all it was. The fearless three on the par-five 16th was far more representative of a round that was best of the day by two shots.

It helped that this former European Tour regular's supposed biggest challengers, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh, had personal calamities with a pair of miserable 78s. In fact, seemingly everyone surrounding Ames lost their heads, except Goosen with his 69 and the group in joint-third including the increasingly impressive Swede, Henrik Stenson.

But no one lost it more than Ernie Els. The South African was so incensed with dropping four shots in the last five holes for a 71, all but throwing away the five birdies that had advanced him to seven under, that he produced an act of petulance so uncharacteristic to his laid-back, "Big Easy" image.

After refusing to do a post-match television interview, Els ignored the autograph hunters huddled by the scorer's tent and stormed up the stairs leading to the clubhouse.

Upset that one of their heroes had snubbed them, a few of the fans began to swear at Els, who was by now above them on the walkway. The 36-year-old stopped, glared at those who he believed were the offenders and angrily threw his glove at them. It was probably fortunate for the unruly youngsters that the world No 5 did not have anything heavier in his hand.

In contrast, Woods was as gracious as ever after a 75 that left him in joint 22nd and inwardly seething. He was inevitably questioned again how his father's ailing health back in California would affect his Masters' preparation ­ or even participation ­ and the world No 1 replied once again that he just did not know what would happen.

But Greg Owen and Ian Poulter will not be in Georgia barring a miracle (unlikely) or an invite (unlikelier). The former finished valiantly with a 73 that was not quite good enough to achieve the required top-13 placing while Poulter never even got with sight of the top three with his 75.

How the Augusta traditionalists will miss those trousers.

* Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman who so memorably threw away a three-shot lead on the last hole of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, yesterday won the Madeira Island Open at Santo da Serra for his first European Tour title in 13 years. The 39-year-old survived a double-bogey six on the 72nd hole to beat England's Lee Slattery by a shot.

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