Els scoops the jackpot again with record win

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The Independent Online

As 35th birthdays go, Ernie Els had a pretty special one yesterday. There were the cards. "There were so many I thought it was Christmas," he said. There was the money, with the South African banking the £1m first prize for the second year that it has been on offer.

As 35th birthdays go, Ernie Els had a pretty special one yesterday. There were the cards. "There were so many I thought it was Christmas," he said. There was the money, with the South African banking the £1m first prize for the second year that it has been on offer.

But for the man who has everything it is the things that money cannot buy that mean the most. "You look at the title first, try to get yourself in the books, and then the money will take care of itself," he added.

Els won the HSBC World Match Play title for a record sixth time by defeating Lee Westwood 2 and 1. It took him past the record he previously shared with his countryman Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros.

"It's a brilliant feeling to have the record," Els said. "Gary might have more majors than me, but at least I've got one record back from him.

"And Seve was as tough as they come. It's a good job he's not still around at his best. My very first match here in '94 was against Seve and it's still the best match I've ever been involved in."

Yesterday's final will probably not rank up there. "I didn't play as well this week as last year but that doesn't matter in matchplay," Els admitted. Westwood's cold had turned into a chest infection and he struggled all day.

"I slept terribly and felt awful all day," Westwood said. "The main problem was the putting, bending over and trying to remain still over the ball. It felt like I had no balance and was moving all over the place."

Westwood, who never thought of quitting, earned £400,000 and will move up into the top 30 in the world rankings. More pertinently, he was heading home to bed and a rest before the Volvo Masters.

After a week in which Els played 138 holes and Westwood 139 on such heavy going, it was hardly surprising neither player could produce their best. Els had six bogeys in the first 19 holes, which does not happen very often.

On the other hand, there were moments of brilliance, as at the fourth in the morning when the hole was halved in eagles. But the South African gave away the next two holes and though he twice got back to square, Westwood holed from 12 feet for a birdie at the 16th.

It was the last time the Worksop man was ahead. On the 17th tee he hooked his drive out of bounds, modern technology being his downfall. "I heard a camera phone go off," he said. "Phones are banned from the course and so are cameras, so I don't know why camera phones aren't banned."

In the afternoon it was Els who took command by birdieing the third with a six-iron to eight feet and then chalking up his third eagle of the day with a five-iron to 12 feet at the fourth.

Westwood responded with a terrific tee-shot at the short fifth, a five-iron to three feet but from here on Els did what he does so well in not giving anything away.

The Englishman lost the 10th when he went over the green and the hour glass was running out of sand as the next four holes were halved. But Els three-putted the 15th, an error he was forced into by Westwood's fine six-iron to three feet.

Back to one-down with three to play, Westwood immediately lost the next and his drive and three-wood, hit with all his remaining strength, was the act of a desperate man. But he was on the green in two, while Els was in the rough, short and right of the green.

He chipped to 20 feet and after Westwood's eagle attempt just missed, Els rolled in the winning putt. His 96-year-old grandfather - also named Theodore Ernest - would have nodded appreciatively. "We spoke this morning and he was giving me some grief about my putting," Els said. "He was telling me to keep my head still, which is pretty basic."

Els has now won 22 of his 26 matches in the event and after a summer of disappointments in the majors has now won two world titles in three weeks after his win in Ireland. "I was complaining about all sorts of stuff a few weeks ago but now it is looking like a pretty good season," he said. "I'm going to enjoy tonight."

World Match Play Championship (Wentworth) Semi-final (Saturday): E Els (SA) bt Padraig Harrington (Rep Irl) 5&4; L Westwood (GB) bt M A Jimenez (Sp) 1 up. Final (yesterday): Els bt Westwood 2&1.

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