Confidence brings Els third trophy

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The Independent Online

In his current vein of form, Ernie Els is even more reliable than the weather here, which given Dubai's success as a new holiday destination is pretty reliable. Not for the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic, however. It was cool, overcast and rainy but Els certainly did not disappoint. His victory at the Emirates club was the South African's third in four starts, making him the world's hottest player.

Over the last six weeks, Els has won in Melbourne, Miami and now the Middle East. In fact, he has won the last three strokeplay tournaments he has played, at a cumulative 50 under par and with 11 rounds out of 12 in the 60s. The other event in that period was the World Matchplay, when he lost a tight game to Tom Lehman in the second round.

When Els won the South African Players Championship in December, he had not picked up a trophy for over a year. Now he has won on four continents in four months. Finishing runner-up in three consecutive majors in 2000 did not sit well with the Big Easy but after Retief Goosen won the US Open last summer, Els turned to his countryman's sports psychologist, Jos Vantisphout.

The Belgian master of the little grey cells did not need to be Hercule Poirot to advise the 32-year-old South African that he should concern himself less about the exploits of Tiger Woods and solely about his own game.

Els held a rapidly charging Tiger at bay to win the Genuity Championship at Doral last Sunday and completed the double by beating Niclas Fasth by four strokes. Els's 69 left him at 16 under par; Fasth scored 70 to finish a shot ahead of his fellow Swede Carl Pettersson.

Els became the first player to lift the huge Arabian teapot of a trophy for a second time in the 13-year history of the tournament. When Els won here for the first time in 1994, it was his first official European Tour victory and came a few months prior to him winning the first of his two US Open titles.

This was Els's 10th European Tour title and a third major may not be far away. "So far, so good," Els said. "It's already a good season but I want to make it even better."

The South African's overnight lead of three was extended to the eventual winning margin of four by the turn but that hardly tells the story. After seven holes, Fasth was tied for the lead. While Els swapped birdies and bogeys for the first four holes, the 29-year-old from Gothenburg, who claimed a place in the European Ryder Cup team by finishing runner-up to David Duval in the Open at Royal Lytham, made only forward advances.

He confidently found the green at the 530-yard third hole in two and holed from 35 feet for the eagle and then put his tee-shot at the short seventh to two feet for a birdie.

The eighth and ninth holes at the Emirates, however, are the key to any round here. The eighth doglegs right up the hill and Fasth failed to find the fairway. He was in a bush in the desert on the right and overcooked his recovery to the sand on the other side. On the green in four, he then compounded the error by taking three putts.

With his opponent taking a triple-bogey seven, Els could have inflicted more pain by taking the birdie chance on offer but missed. A hole later he did not. Ignoring the water that awaits up the left-hand side of the fairway and bites into the front of the green, he hit his approach to five feet and holed that one.

Fasth replied with birdies at the 12th and 13th to cut the lead to two but a two-shot swing ended the contest at the 16th. Fasth drove poorly and could do no better than a five while Els, despite finding sand just off the fairway with his drive, hit the pin with his approach and then holed from eight feet.

"Niclas is going to be an asset for the European team," Els said. "He is showing people that he can play. He is an excellent ball-striker and a good putter. He's not scared. But for that seven at the eighth, he could be sitting here."

DESERT CLASSIC (Dubai) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated) 272 E Els (SA) 68 68 67 69. 276 N Fasth (Swe) 68 69 69 70. 277 C Pettersson (Swe) 70 73 65 69. 279 B Davis 71 70 71 67. 281 G Evans 70 71 72 68; C Wi (Kor) 68 67 77 69. 282 M Gronberg (Swe) 72 70 71 69; B Dredge 74 70 69 69; D Clarke 72 73 68 69; S Dyson 71 68 73 70; A Oldcorn 75 66 69 72. 283 A Forsbrand (Swe) 74 66 75 68; S Torrance 68 71 75 69; S Kjeldsen (Den) 74 70 69 70; *M Hoey 74 68 70 71; R Muntz (Neth) 70 75 67 71; K Eriksson (Swe) 72 74 66 71; G Owen 71 70 70 72; P Broadhurst 69 70 71 73. Selected: 284 P Harrington 70 75 68 71.287 N Faldo 72 73 72 70; B Lane 73 73 71 70.288 P Price 73 71 72 72; I Woosnam 73 68 74 73. 289 J Rose 72 71 72 74.*denotes amateur