Els ends four-year drought with 1-shot victory at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Ernie Els was part of another final-round blunder. Only this time, he was the beneficiary.
Ending nearly a four-year drought between PGA Tour victories, Els shot a 3-under 67 Sunday to win the Honda Classic. He finished at 6 under, one shot better than Luke Donald (71) and two ahead of Nathan Green (67).
"It's been a long time coming," Els said.
But this final round will probably be best remembered for Mark Calcavecchia's chip that wouldn't stop, because that ultimately was the break Els needed to finally hoist a winner's trophy once again.
Els and Calcavecchia were tied for the lead as the sun began setting on PGA National. Calcavecchia hit into a greenside bunker at the par-3 15th and his shot from the sand looked fine when it hit the green.
Somehow, it never stopped rolling.
The ball came to rest on a rock ledge across the green. Calcavecchia walked over, tossed the ball into the water and made a double bogey to give Els the outright lead.
"It just didn't grab and just kept rolling and rolling and rolling," said Calcavecchia, a two-time Honda winner. "And that was it."
Els made a cool par on the par-5 finishing hole, then waited to see if anyone would match his score. Donald made a 35-foot birdie at the 16th to get within one, but got no closer, although his birdie chip on the last hole stopped just shy of the cup.
With that, Els stopped hitting balls and slipped on his watch, basking in a winning feeling again.
"To win over here, it's been really my goal," Els said. "So it's a great feeling."
Els got $990,000 for his 16th career PGA Tour victory, along with the huge shot of confidence that he's sought for so long. Plus, he'll jump a spot to third in the world rankings, passing Steve Stricker.
No, this isn't enough for him to catch Tiger Woods.
But he's at least a step closer in his three-year plan to challenge the world's No. 1 player.
"That's as good as I probably could have played in the final round," Els said. "So it was very satisfying."
Honda Classic Leaderboard
1. Els (-6)
2. Donald (-5)
3. Green (-4)
T-4. Allenby (-3)
T-4. Jones (-3)
T-4. Calcavecchia (-3)
"Didn't go my way," Calcavecchia said. "Wasn't my time."
Els wasted a four-shot, final-round lead in a European tour event in Dubai earlier this year, when Woods roared past him for a victory. Els made a colossal mistake on the 18th hole that day, splashing his approach into the water after trying to pull off a spectacular finish.
At Hilton Head last year, he was denied when Boo Weekley chipped in twice in the final holes. And last year in his native South Africa, Els made a triple-bogey 8 on the finishing hole to blow what seemed like another cinch victory.
But this time, a smooth, steady finish -- a Big Easy finish, if you will -- got it done.
"I think he's one of the best golfers I've ever played with," Donald said. "It's surprising that he hasn't won for so many years on this tour. You know, maybe this win will open up the floodgates a little bit."
There were 14 changes atop the leaderboard Sunday, and the winning score couldn't have been much of a surprise; Mark Wilson won a four-man playoff at PGA National last year after finishing four rounds at 5 under, and this year's Honda provided a similar cluster.
Even after a quadruple bogey Friday, Donald wound up as the last contender standing.
"I take absolute positives from this week," said Donald, the 2006 Honda winner who was third this year at the Northern Trust Open. "It's not a disappointing week by any means."
Calcavecchia never recovered from 15, and Jones hit his tee ball into the water at the par-3 17th to end whatever chance the rookie had of snaring his first tour win.
Els was alone on the lead and the only player to have a bogey-free round, until he got to the 17th, the end of the famed "Bear Trap" at PGA National. He knocked his tee shot into a bunker, and his shot from there ran nearly 10 feet past the cup. The par putt missed, moving Calcavecchia and Jones both back into a share of the lead at 6 under.
They couldn't stay there, and Els did.
Jones was tied for the lead entering the final round once last year on the Nationwide Tour. But the South Georgia Classic, this is not.
Still, the Australian hardly embarrassed himself. His finish at PGA National was the fifth top-30 in six starts, and the $227,333 check from the Honda vaulted him to 38th on the money list.
"I can take from the week that I can compete with guys out here, which is good," Jones said.
Oddly enough, Els left the Honda thinking the same thing.
"You know, this has been a really wonderful week," Els said.
Els' last win on U.S. soil was the Memorial in June 2004. ... Weekley, who missed a 3-footer on the final hole of regulation play last year to cost himself the Honda title, shot an 80 Sunday and finished 12 over. He did, however, finish with a putt from nearly the same spot where he missed last year, and thrust his arms in the air in mock celebration. ... South Korea's Y.E. Yang, best known for beating Woods to win the 2006 HSBC Championship, played his final round in 1 hour, 53 minutes and shot a 71.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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