For a golfer who wants to be included on the European money list, Ernie Els has a funny way of showing it. The South African won his third European tour title at Hope Island yesterday and it was the third to be recorded under the expanded definition of Europe.
In 1994 Els won the Dubai Classic and the following year he was the victor at the South African PGA, the first event to be co-sanctioned with another overseas tour. Now add Australia to the list. He has also won unofficial "European" events in Jamaica, America and South Africa.
For this one he had to overtake a trio of locals, Anthony Painter, Peter Lonard and Michael Long, who were all two shots ahead of the world No 4. Australia Day did not smile on its natives but rained on their parade. Painter slipped away early on and Lonard holed from 40 feet at the last to get back to where he started the day at nine under.
But the Kiwi Long, playing with Els for the second day running, stayed in contention until he penalised himself a shot when his ball moved after he had addressed a putt on the 15th green. "The ball was sitting on a piece of kikuyu by the edge of the green," Long explained. "I put the putter behind the ball, had one last look at the line, but when I looked down again the ball was against the putter.
"It had only moved half a roll and no one else would have seen it but, if I had gone on to win, it would have felt a hollow victory," he said. Els saved the 28-year-old a further stroke penalty by calling for an official ruling. "I was going to play the ball where it was, but the official said to replace it," Long added. "It wasn't my money to start with or my tournament."
Long finished tied for second with Lonard, while Els' 69 gave him a stroke- victory. "In golf, players have to take on themselves if they break the rules," Els said. "That's why it is a game played by gentlemen. That penalty and my birdie at the next made the difference."
Long had to settle for pounds 60,795 instead of the pounds 116,660 won by Els but both he and Lonard, who played in Europe for two years before falling ill from a mosquito bite, earned enough to be eligible for affiliate membership of the European tour.
Should Els, 27, rejoin the European circuit, he would have a handy advantage on the money list. He was only one of three big names on the leaderboard, Nick Faldo and Fred Couples finishing fourth with Painter, four behind. Both suffered double bogey sevens at the 11th to drop out of contention, the American by finding the water, but Faldo, wearing his personalised short sleeve rain jacket, by taking five to get down from 48 yards.
His third shot, a half pitch, failed to make the green, and his chip finished on the fringe, from where he took three putts. "I made a complete mess of the hole," Faldo said.
Despite the absence of the wind that had blown earlier in the tournament and the softer greens due to the rain, still no one beat 67. Colin Montgomerie came closest, on course for a new record before dropping a stroke at the last. A 30-footer at the first got the Scot on his way and he added five more birdies and an eagle at the 17th.
"I possibly was a bit unprepared," said the four-time European No 1. "I had seven weeks off and then expected to do the same as Sun City." His 15th place finish earned him a more modest prize than at the Million Dollar but the rust should be out of the system when he goes on to Perth this week.
JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC (Hope Island, Queensland) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 278 E Els (SA) 70 68 71 69. 279 M Long (NZ) 68 68 71 72; P Lonard (Aus) 69 69 69 72. 282 N Faldo 70 72 70 70; F Couples (US) 68 76 67 71; A Painter (Aus) 67 73 67 75. 283 D Howell 69 72 75 67; S Leaney (Aus) 69 72 75 67; R Allenby (Aus) 73 73 70 67; M Campbell (NZ) 70 71 74 68; P O'Malley (Aus) 73 68 74 68; M Farry (Fr) 72 70 72 69; B Langer (Ger) 73 72 69 69. 284 I Woosnam 74 70 71 69. 285 C Montgomerie 71 74 73 67. Hong Chia-yuh (Tai) 72 74 70 69; J Haeggman (Swe) 72 71 70 72.
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