Having missed out at all four of the majors this season, Ernie Els rewarded himself with the next best thing by winning a World Championship.
Having missed out at all four of the majors this season, Ernie Els rewarded himself with the next best thing by winning a World Championship. A man known for his celebrations, this was the first time Els has enjoyed one in Ireland, a country where he certainly appreciates the local brews.
It was also his first World Golf Championship title as an individual, and in the process he relegated Tiger Woods to third place in the world rankings.
"It's nice, but I'm still number two," Els joked. "I've been chasing Tiger for five years and now I'm chasing Vijay [Singh]. The game is on, well and truly." In horrid weather, wet and windy but not quite the tournament-delaying storm that had been predicted, Els beat Thomas Bjorn by a stroke. Avoiding mistakes appeared impossible in the conditions, but had the South African holed his par putt at the last, he would have been the only player not to have dropped a shot.
"I think I showed that I didn't want to lose today," Els said. "It was a tough day with the weather and Thomas [Bjorn] keeping me on my toes all the way to the end. There was a lot of pressure but I wanted to draw a line under the disappointments of the summer."
Els arrived at Mount Juliet after two-weeks off, in which he decided to put behind him the near-misses in this year's majors. "I needed to get that out of my system and start going forward again in my career. You can't keep looking back."
By comparison Bjorn has had an even tougher summer, walking off the course on his last visit to Ireland in July and then taking a five-week break after The Open. Being part of the back-room at the Ryder Cup gave the Dane his first positive memories on a golf course for months, but the turnaround in his game is still astonishing.
"This is a massive improvement," said Bjorn, who recorded his best result since January. "It's been a long trip but this is a sign that I can play with the big boys again and that's where I want to be." There has been hard work with his coach, Pete Cowen, and he was back with his old caddie, Ken Comboy. He almost holed his approach at the first for an eagle but Els also birdied and the pair matched each other again with twos at the third.
Bjorn added another birdie at the fifth but never drew level. It was a fine week for European players with David Howell, Sergio Garcia and two locals, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, all on the leaderboard.
Woods, who started the week with back trouble, finished ninth, and now no longer holds a strokeplay title for the first time since his maiden professional win. He left for what was rumoured to be a week in Barbados where he would wed his fiancée, Elin Nordegren. "I'm ready to go diving. I'm ready to hop in that water and shoot some fish," was all he would confirm.
AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAMPIONSHIP (Thomastown, Co Kilkenny) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 270 E Els (SA) 69 64 68 69. 271 T Bjorn (Den) 68 69 66 68. 275 D Howell 69 69 66 71. 276 D Clarke 71 72 65 68; S Garcia (Sp) 67 72 67 70. 277 R Goosen (SA) 68 69 68 72; T Hamilton (US) 66 69 69 73; P Harrington 69 69 66 73. 278 T Woods (US) 68 70 70 70. 279 Z Johnson (US) 68 71 69 71. 280 M Hensby (Aus) 73 73 69 65; L Donald 67 71 71 71. 281 D Toms (US) 70 74 68 69; B Faxon (US) 70 68 72 71; L Westwood 68 69 71 73. 283 S Maruyama (Japan) 70 70 73 70; A Cabrera (Arg) 69 69 74 71; S Appleby (Aus) 67 74 70 72; J Kelly (US) 69 73 69 72; M A Jimenez (Spa) 67 68 75 73. Selected: 286 T Levet (Fr) 73 71 73 69. 287 F Couples (US) 73 67 70 77.Reuse content