Els' eagle claws title from Jimenez

A week that began with Ernie Els sitting in economy class ended yesterday with one of the most dramatic victories of his career.

A week that began with Ernie Els sitting in economy class ended yesterday with one of the most dramatic victories of his career.

The 35-year-old South African's 58th professional win came when he sank a curling 18-foot eagle putt on the 547-yard final hole of the Dubai Desert Classic and then saw the long-time leader, Miguel Angel Jimenez, crumble, taking three putts on the same green.

A play-off had looked the best that Els, winner of the title in 1994 and 2002, could hope for when he came to the last tee in third place - behind Jimenez and the Welshman Stephen Dodd. The Ryder Cup Spaniard was favourite when he hit the green in two. But he was 70 feet away and, after not reading enough break, he was left with a six-footer.

Els crunched an enormous drive and had only 178 yards left. With the flag close to the lake, nobody had had an eagle on the hole all day. But the world No 3 hit a towering six-iron and got the line of his putt exactly right.

Suddenly, Jimenez needed to convert one putt to remain in the tournament - and when he missed, Els, who was in contention for all four majors last season and won none of them, had grabbed victory from defeat.

"Phew, man," he said. "I'm lost for words. I tell you, this is definitely a big win for me, especially the fashion I won it in. In the last three or four years I've won a lot and lost a lot. This is one I pulled out of the hat - a nice change for me."

A problem with his flight to the Middle East had left him with no choice but to take the middle seat in economy - though he was later upgraded - and after his win he said: "You know what they say. Start in the toilet and end in the penthouse."

On the two previous occasions he picked up this trophy he went on to land a major in the same season. Els' closing 68 gave him first prize with a 19-under-par total of 269 and left Jimenez and Dodd - round in 70 and a superb 66 respectively - sharing second.

Colin Montgomerie was fourth, not enough to take him back into the world's top 50, and so he will play in China in two weeks' time still trying to win a place in next month's Masters.

Jimenez has suffered disappointment here before. In 1996 Montgomerie hit a driver off the fairway on to the last green to pip him. "I know what he's going through right now, and it's not nice," said Els.

Dodd, British amateur champion back in 1989, paid 10 trips to the European Tour qualifying school before finally tasting success in the Volvo China Open in November. The 38-year-old from Cardiff, still only 184th in the world, beat his playing partner, Montgomerie, by three shots.

Montgomerie said: "I played well, but they played better. It was a golden opportunity to win. But my last five tournaments have been super, and I've just got to start holing some more putts. I'm hitting it really well."

His fellow Scot Stephen Gallacher recorded the third hole in one of the week at the 188-yard fourth.

Elsewhere, Justin Rose has confirmed that for the time being at least he has handed in his membership of the European Tour to concentrate full-time on the American circuit.

The 24-year-old, fourth in the 1998 Open as an amateur and the halfway leader of the Masters last April, has fallen to 79th in the world rankings - and because he is not currently exempt for majors or world championships, he does not want to commit to 11 European events.

A spokesman for his management company said that the membership will be taken up again as soon as he climbs back into the top 50. Rose needs it to be eligible for next year's Ryder Cup, qualification for which starts in September.

* Phil Mickelson hit a six-under-par 66 to lead from Tiger Woods after the third round of the Florida's Ford Championship. Mickelson took advantage of ideal conditions, but Woods closed the gap after a spectacular 63. Mickelson, the Masters champion, was at 20 under on 196 after 54 holes, two shots in front of the world No 2.

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC (UAE) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 269 E Els (SA) 66 68 67 68. 270 S Dodd 70 65 69 66; M A Jimenez (Sp) 67 65 68 70. 272 C Montgomerie 70 67 66 69. 275 G Havret (Fr) 70 68 69 68. 276 N Dougherty 69 70 69 68; R Karlsson (Swe) 69 70 68 69; L Westwood 70 68 67 71. 277 S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 70 68 69; D Howell 67 71 69 70. Selected: 282 I Woosnam 74 69 70 69. 284 B Curtis (US) 70 71 70 73. 285 S Lyle 71 70 71 73.

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