South Africa captured the World Golf Championships-EMC2 World Cup after a four nation play-off at The Taiheiyo Club, Gotemba, Japan, which saw Ernie Els and Retief Goosen edge out Denmark, New Zealand and defending champions United States.
Els and Goosen won the title and the 1,119,190 euro first prize with a par four at the second extra hole against Denmark’s bogey five, the other two countries having been eliminated at the first play-off hole.
A succession of remarkable shots ensured that the tournament reached a dramatic climax, with the South Africans and the USA both making improbable eagles at the final hole to tie the Danes and New Zealand on 264, 24 under par.
Denmark’s Thomas Björn and Søren Hansen were first to set the clubhouse mark for the rest to shoot at, recording the best foursomes round of the week, a seven under par 65, which meant they had played all 72 holes without a single bogey. Then it was a case of sitting back and waiting for the drama to unfold.
A bogey at the 71st seemed to have cost the South Africans their play-off chance, but US Open Champion Goosen fired an imperious five iron from 210 yards to the par five 18th, the ball nestling eight feet from the flag. Els calmly rolled in the putt for an eagle and a round of 66. Now there were at least two teams on the same total.
The final groups on the course arrived at the last with the United States in the same position as South Africa and New Zealand requiring a birdie to win outright. When Tiger Woods is involved, nothing ever seems impossible and so it proved once more.
He and David Duval had seemingly no prospect of retaining their crown, but birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th to get to 22 under. A glimmer of light appeared, and Woods conjured up the shot of the week, a delicate, breaking chip from a bare downhill lie up and across a bank, for an eagle. Between them, he and Duval had covered the last four holes in five under.
Kiwis Michael Campbell and David Smail, the second and third round leaders, appreciated that a birdie four would clinch the title. However Campbell’s wayward approach missed the green and a par five for a 70 meant that four teams had finished on the same mark.
The first extra hole – the same 18th where he had performed heroics minutes earlier - proved America’s undoing. Woods pulled his drive and a par five was the best he and Duval could muster.
Smail found a bunker off the tee, Campbell’s second skimmed the water and bounced back onto dry land, but his partner’s unconvincing chip also meant a par five. The Danes made a birdie from Hansen’s excellent drive while Goosen struck a marvellous fairway bunker shot to the heart of the green to set up a South African two-putt birdie.
Now the play-off was a straight fight, but Björn drove into the trees at the second hole – the 14th – and Hansen could only chip out sideways. South Africa were safely down in par, leaving Hansen with an eight footer for par to keep the contest alive. His effort shaved the hole and an amazing day in the foothills of Mount Fuji was over.
It was difficult to decide which was the more impressive – Japan’s towering highest peak or the awesome quality of the golf which enthralled that country’s first taste of the World Golf Championships.
Els, a World Cup winner for the second time but the first under the World Golf Championships banner, praised his partner for his part in securing that last hole eagle.
"We need to get the ball up onto the shelf beside the pin to have a chance of eagle, and Retief hit a beautiful five iron."
Goosen, the Volvo Order of Merit winner in Europe, was enjoying a fourth title of his greatest season and commented: "After I missed my par putt on the 17th I felt I had to make up fror it a little bit. From where I was standing I knew I had only one way to go - straight at the flag. I hit a great shot and he hit a great putt."
Björn commented: "We are happy with what we achieved. It was a fantastic job to shoot 65 in foursomes and to play 72 holes without a bogey. To make one in the play-off hurt, though.
"It's obviously disappointing when you are right in there, but for Soren it was a great week. It was a taste of the future for him. He's got a huge talent and it was nice for him to go out in a play-off with players like tiger and David and Ernie and Retief.
"Tiger is a different person to the rest of us and he does things on the last hole that only Nicklaus could do in the past. But I was more impressed by the shot Retief hit out of the bunker in the play-off. It was an unbelievable golf shot. But for us, it's been a good week for ourselves and Danish golf."
Campbell admitted: "We had a rough start with two bogeys early on, but we came back strongly and basically just didn't get the job done."
Talking about that stunning chip-in, Woods explained; "I had a halfway decent lie. I hit a good shot but, you know, it all depends on the luck of the bounce. I thought I missed it high but it broke at the end."
While Denmark were the toast of Europe, there were several other impressive performances in Japan. England's Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, with a closing 67 for 267, took fifth with Spain a shot behind in sixth. France tied Argentina for eighth with Scotland and Wales sharing 11th and Ireland tied 14th.