Els captures fifth South African Open title on bizarre final day in Durban

ernie els
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Ernie Els scooped up the trophy in his national open after an exciting battle with fellow South African superstar Retief Goosen.
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PA Sport and Associated Press

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Ernie Els won the South African Open for the fifth time Sunday, shooting a 6-under 66 to beat Retief Goosen by one shot in a tournament shortened to 17 holes for each of the final two rounds. The 100th playing of the world’s second-oldest national open was sanctioned by the European Tour and southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour.

The third and fourth rounds were played Sunday without the par-3 fourth, where the green was water-logged and all players were given a par score, meaning the competitors played 34 holes instead of the usual 36. After almost all of Thursday’s action was wahed out by rain, more showers Sunday morning delayed the start of play approximately an hour and the water rendered the fourth green unplayable.

2010 SOUTH AFRICAN OPEN

First played in 1893, the South African Open is the second-oldest national championship in golf, with only the British Open being older.

Els had five birdies, an eagle and a bogey in the final round to finish at 25-under 257 in South Africa’s flagship event, where South Africans took the top four spots.

“It was a wonderful choice to come here,” said Els, who also won this event in 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2006. “… Playing under a lot of pressure, with really good players in the field on a great golf course. It was a great championship.”

Goosen shot a pair of 66s on Sunday in his runner-up effort, and rallied late with four birdies in his last five holes. But the charge proved too late for Goosen, who won in both 1995 and 2005, and he fell just short on 24 under overall.

“We have played against each other since we were kids, “Els said of Goosen, “and I know he’s a very good player.”

British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen also had a 66 to finish third, four shots behind Els, and Charl Schwartzel was fourth, seven shots back, after a 67.

In the third round played Sunday morning, Els had three bogeys on his first five holes, but recovered with seven birdies to stay one shot ahead of Goosen.

“I had a two-shot lead at the start of the day and then after five holes I was three behind and then I was one up again after 18 holes,” Els said. “So it was just an incredible day.”

Robert Rock finished with successive 64s to be the highest placed European, finishing in a tie for fifth with teenager Romain Wattel of France (65).

The victory was Els’ third of the season.

"It was a wonderful choice to come here. This really makes the year very good now,” Els said. "Playing under a lot of pressure, with really good players in the field on a great golf course. It was a great championship."

The title added to his previous ones in 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2006 and was made even more special considering it came in the 100th playing of the tournament.

Els, 41, described playing two rounds in a day during such a big competition as an "incredible feeling."

He also felt that securing an eagle on the par-5 14th hole was crucial in helping him edge out Goosen -- a man whose two titles were won with Els as his main final-round rival.

"Obviously 14 was a big putt, making eagle there. I knew Retief was going to come, but I never thought he was going to do it at 16 and then he had a great finish,” Els explained. "I think right from the start (it's going to be a head-to-head). I knew Retief was going to be the guy I had to beat.

"Obviously Louis and Charl were there, but Retief was the main one,” he added. "He's beaten me coming down the stretch quite a few times, so I really wanted to play well. It was really important. He made it really tough for me."