Els rides collapse to capture Classic title for third time

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Ernie Els admitted to not being sure how he managed to win his third consecutive Heineken Classic after an astonishing collapse at Royal Melbourne here yesterday.

After three days watching Els dominating the field the bookmakers had stopped taking bets on the South African. Only a major slump could have denied him a hat-trick of titles. But on an incredible final day it very nearly did as Els lost his eight stroke lead in just nine holes before recovering to edge out Adam Scott by one shot in a dogfight down the home straight.

In the end Els finished a record-breaking week on 20-under-par to retain his title, but had to wait until Scott's final putt of the day to be certain of victory in a tournament he led from the start.

The 23-year-old Australian, who had refused to be shaken as Els put together a run of four birdies in five holes on the back nine, was putting on the 18th to force a play-off but left his birdie effort inches shy.

Scott finished on 19-under-par and Els, after opening rounds of 60, 66 and 68, was the deserving champion. He just did not seal it in the manner anyone would have expected.

"I don't know how I brought it back, but I did. It was like I had never played this game before on the first nine and then I played the back nine as well as I could. It was a tough day," Els said. "It is definitely not the way I planned it. I just had to adjust on the back nine to the emotions going through me and the way the tournament was going."

Scott's fellow Australian Peter Fowler was third on 15-under with Sweden's Peter Hanson one shot back in fourth place. Stephen Gallacher of Scotland finished tied for fifth, with New Zealand's Michael Campbell, on 13-under-par. England's Greg Owen had the round of the day with a six-under-par 66 to finish on 12-under for the week.

* Michelle Wie advanced to the final round of the men's 54-hole Hawaii Pearl Open in Aiea, shooting a four-under par 68 on Saturday to finish the second round at two-under. The 6ft 14-year-old was tied for 35th with five others, nine strokes behind the leader Kiyoshi Murota, a 48-year-old from the Japanese tour. "She's taller than me," Murota said. "That's not fair."

HEINEKEN CLASSIC (Melbourne) Leading final scores (Aus unless stated): 268 E Els (SA) 60 66 68 74. 269 A Scott 66 68 68 67. 273 P Fowler 66 68 69 70. 274 P Hanson (Swe) 67 70 66 71. 275 S Gallacher (GB) 68 68 69 70; M Campbell (NZ) 64 72 69 70. 276 G Owen (GB) 68 72 70 66; P Sheehan 66 74 65 71; M Pearce (NZ) 65 70 69 72; G Paddison (NZ) 67 68 67 74. 277 P Senior 70 67 70 70; P O'Malley 66 69 68 74. 278 R Green 66 67 76 69; I Poulter (GB) 68 68 73 69. 279 J Haeggman (Swe) 71 68 68 72. Selected scores: 284 N Faldo (GB) 68 73 70 73. 288 G Norman 71 72 70 75. 289 S Lyle (GB) 70 73 67 79.

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