Els in illustrious company with fifth win
World Match Play final: Another near miss for Bjorn but Dane wins Â£37,000 car with hole-in-one at 14th
Monday 20 October 2003
Ernie Els will always be a gentleman to the last, even to the extent that he did not let the final of the HSBC World Match Play here get that far. Instead, the South African ended the match on the 15th green, just a few yards from the house of his opponent, Thomas Bjorn, near the 16th tee.
Bjorn had prevented a finish out in the country by eagling the 12th and, at five-down with five to play, holing in one at the 14th. Just when the match looked like going on to at least the 16th green, nearer to the Els abode, in which both finalists' children spent most of the day playing together, Els holed a curling, right-to-left 25-foot putt to claim the new Mark McCormack Trophy and the £1m first prize.
It was the biggest cheque ever handed over by a sponsor in Britain, or indeed anywhere but Els's native land. If anyone was experienced at playing for a seven-figure sum it was Els, as he won $2m (£1.3m) at the Sun City tournament last year.
"It is an obscene amount of money," Els admitted, "but I am really comfortable about it. It certainly makes you think out there." Els also joined his great countryman Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros as the only men to win the HSBC World Match Play five times. It has taken Els only nine appearances, during which time he has won 18 of his 22 matches.
"I really love this championship and to join Gary and Seve is illustrious company," said Els, who has now won seven times this year. Ballesteros, following the match for the BBC, said Els had, "more ability and talent than Tiger Woods. If he really wants to be No 1, he can be."
"I hold Seve in the highest regard and he has given me a lot of quiet advice over the years," Els said. "He says I need to get mentally tougher. It was difficult today playing against a good friend. You want to be in that certain mood but its tough against someone like Thomas."
Els was soon four-up after eight holes in the morning and was always in control. Bjorn, who played from the first round on Thursday, was not at his best and said he felt the only putt he holed was the eagle at the 12th in the afternoon.
Two holes later there was no need to putt as his four-iron at the uphill 179-yard hole found the cup. "Follow that," he said to Els, who could not.
"It was an unbelievable shot," said Els. "I was looking at his swing and the divot and they looked perfect."
In addition to having earned £400,000 for finishing runner-up, Bjorn also won a £37,000 Toyota Land Cruiser for the ace but handed the keys of the car to his caddy, Billy Foster, who had switched the Dane from his original three-iron. But after his collapse in the Open at Sandwich and two play-off defeats, it was another disappointing Sunday for Bjorn.
"It has been a season of near-misses, but I have learnt a lot this week," he said. "I just need to improve a little bit in every category." A week that started with no British interest produced a final between two "home" players and, to the relief of the new sponsors, the crowd for each day was up on last year.
WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth): Final: E Els (SA) bt T Bjorn (Den) 4 & 3. Els wins £1m, Bjorn £400,000.
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