Els ends barren run by ascent to seventh heaven
Monday 15 October 2007
So Ernie Els's comfortable 6 and 4 victory over Angel Cabrera on the West Course yesterday left plenty of time for his jaunt to Paris last night for the second South Africa-Argentina clash of the day. Whatever the result in the Stade de France, it would have been a happier plane ride than the previous Sunday evening.
Do not let Els fool you. He might take advantage of little bonuses like a trip by private jet to a Rugby World Cup semi-final but nothing matters as much as taking care of business on the course. The previous weekend at St Andrews Els messed up the 16th hole, putting into a bunker for a triple bogey, and lost a chance to win the Dunhill Links.
At such moments the Big Easy is more like a big bear with a very sore head. "It seems like I'm a patient guy but I'm quite an impatient person when it comes to getting results," Els said. "Last Sunday it wasn't a happy plane ride. Any time you stuff up like that it certainly sits on your mind for a while. You try to downplay it and just get on with the week."
This was Els's seventh win in the HSBC World Match Play championship, a tournament the Wentworth resident has long made his own. But this was his first win of the year and his first on the big stage since his knee injury sailing in the Mediterranean in 2005. His last victory either in America or on European soil was in this same event in 2004.
"I wish I could take Wentworth with me everywhere around the world," Els added. "I would never have thought I would win a prestigious tournament like this seven times.
"It's a really important win for me and my career. I haven't had the results go my way in America or Europe so far this year so to get a win and to play the way I did this year is very satisfying."
Yet it has still been a very consistent season for the South African and although the £1m first prize was capped for the purposes of the European Tour Order of Merit, Els still went to the top of the table. However, Els is not playing at the Volvo Masters at Valderrama at the end of the month, having a contract to play in Singapore on the Asian Tour.
Open champion Padraig Harrington, who has one event left, and Justin Rose, who has two still to play, could overtake him but they will have to play well to do so. "They've got their work cut out," Els said. "Hopefully some outsiders will play well and keep Padraig and Justin honest."
Els is genuine in hoping to win a third Order of Merit and at some time returning to Valderrama, where he has not played for a number of years. But he was also frank enough to admit: "At the end of the year you've got the wheelbarrow out and want to cash in a bit."
He has certainly done that at the World Match Play, where his seven wins, from 12 appearances, have netted him £3.75m. He has lost only five of his 31 matches and even a back twinge yesterday morning could not stop him collecting eight birdies and a three-up lead.
Whatever Els did to correct his putting stance on Saturday lunchtime it was still doing the trick yesterday as he holed from 32 feet at the third and from off the green at the ninth. Els would have been further out in front had it not been for Cabrera twice matching his opponent's birdies on the back nine.
In keeping with most of the finals since the format was changed to ensure all the players played all four days, even these two giants of the southern hemisphere – Cabrera aged 38 and Els soon to be so – were beginning to feel the effects of playing eight rounds in quick succession. The third hole in the afternoon, one of glorious autumnal sunshine, proved to be crucial. Els, carving his drive to the right and hitting his tee with his second, should never have won it.
But he hit an eight-iron to 12 feet and holed the putt for an unlikely par, while Cabrera failed to get up and down. He was four down and the US Open champion could not respond. The end came when Els won three holes in a row from the 12th. At the short 14th, Els hit a lovely shot to 10 feet and was primed to make his 13th birdie of the day but after Cabrera overshot the green and chipped past the hole, the match was conceded.
"I played my best today but it wasn't enough," Cabrera said. "Ernie played very well, he knows the course so well and he is so comfortable here. He is the king of Wentworth."
HSBC World Match Play: Final E Els (SA) bt A Cabrera (Arg) by 6 and 4
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