Ernie Els came out on top after a thrilling final day at Durban Country Club to win the 100th South African Open Championship by a single shot from Retief Goosen.
Els and Goosen fought a ding-dong battle over an unusual 34 holes on a scintillating Sunday. Rain affected play on both Thursday and Friday and only two rounds were completed by close of play on Saturday. That meant two rounds had to be played on the Sunday to get all four rounds finished.
But, further rain overnight left the 4th hole unplayable so those who made the halfway cut played two rounds of 17 holes, with all given a par 3 at the 4th in both rounds to avoid confusion with scoring.
Playing together, Goosen started better than Els in round three. He raced to the turn in 31 with Els struggling somewhat to be out in 36. At that stage Goosen held a three-shot lead.
But Els came back strongly with five birdies in his closing nine holes. Goosen made four birdies himself but, with three bogeys thrown in there too, Els regained a slender, one-stroke, advantage going into the final round.
The South Africans traded birdies over the opening holes with Els just managing to keep his nose in front. The key moment came at the par-5 14th. Els played two superb shots to reach the putting surface then holed his putt for an eagle to stretch his lead to four shots with just four holes to play.
"The Big Easy" looked to have it sewn up but Goosen refused to give in. He holed a monster putt for a birdie on the 16th and made further birdies at the 17th and 18th. In the end Els crossed the line with nothing to spare, just one shot clear of his rival. Between them, Els and Goosen made 29 birdies and an eagle over the final two rounds.
"I've been a professional for 20 years now and I don't think I've ever had a day like that," said Els. "Coming into today I knew Retief was going to be my biggest rival. He's had the better of me down the stretch a few times in recent years so I really wanted to play well today."
It was a fifth home open title for Els and his 63rd victory as a professional.
The top of the leaderboard was dominated by home players. 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen finished alone in third, four shots behind Els. He played some fantastic golf from tee to green but the putts refused to drop in the final round. Had he enjoyed more luck on the greens he may well have threatened for the title.
Charl Schwartzel was fourth with Robert Rock of England and Romain Wattel of France the best placed non-South African players in a tie for fifth.
South African Open Championship Durban Country Club, South Africa Dec 16-19, purse €1,000,000, par 72
1 Ernie Els (RSA) 65 65 67 66 263 €158,000 2 Retief Goosen (RSA) 64 68 66 66 264 €115,000 3 Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 67 67 67 66 267 €69,200 4 Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 65 69 69 67 270 €49,100 T5 Robert Rock (Eng) 69 69 67 67 272 €38,350 T5 Romain Wattel (Fra) 67 66 71 68 272 €38,350 T7 Victor Riu (Fra) 68 68 68 69 273 €27,050 T7 Alex Cejka (Ger) 64 72 69 68 273 €27,050 T9 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 68 69 68 69 274 €19,700 T9 Robert Dinwiddie (Eng) 71 69 66 68 274 €19,700 T9 Tim Clark (RSA) 70 67 68 69 274 €19,700
Note: Player score in bold signifies Titleist ball usage only
Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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