He began the day with a five shot lead and ended it with a five shot victory, statistics which confirmed that World Number Two Ernie Els had penned himself another chapter in golf’s history books with a stunning victory in The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
The reigning Open Golf Champion gave himself the perfect fillip for his defence of the title at Royal St George’s next week with a calm and controlled closing 69 for a 17 under par total of 267.
Nearest challengers at the start of the day were playing partner Darren Clarke and Welshman Phillip Price, looking to become the first player since Vijay Singh in 2001 to win consecutive tournaments on The European Tour International Schedule after his victory in last week’s Smurfit European Open.
But although the Ryder Cup team-mates tried, they could not eat into Els’s advantage and when they matched the South African’s final round 69 for matching 12 under par totals of 272, they ended the day where they had started it, in a share of second.
As well as consolidating his position at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit with €1836,385 (£1,263,544), Els once again put the record keepers to work. The South African became the first player to record three European Tour victories in 2003, following his wins in the Heineken Classic and the Johnnie Walker Classic, and he became the first player to win twice at Loch Lomond following his initial success in 2000.
His scoring feats also continued to astound. On the Bonnie Banks alone over the years, the World Number Two is now 58 under par for his rounds while in his nine starts on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule, he is an astonishing 116 under par.
Little wonder then that the South African was delighted with the way the week had panned out on the west coast of Scotland.
"I wanted to win this week," said Els. "I played well and put myself in a position to win and I went out there and did it. I hit the ball well and kept my nerve and although it got close for a while, I responded in the right way."
Playing partner Clarke knew he had to get off to a good start and hope that Els would slip back and when the Irishman birdied the third after Els had bogeyed the second, the gap was suddenly down to three shots and Clarke’s fans in the gallery were heartened.
But the Irishman could not keep up the momentum. Trying to hard to close the gap around the turn, Clarke bogeyed the ninth, 11th and 12th to all but fall out of the picture entirely, although he rallied well with three birdies in the last six holes.
“It was a day where I didn’t swing the club very well, I had a few opportunities at the start to make some birdies to make a dent in his lead but I didn’t make them,” said Clarke.
“I needed to get off to a good start but I didn’t manage that and we got confused a few times with the wind but I didn’t swing the club well enough to mount a real challenge and he was in control most of the day. I made a couple of birdies at the end to move back up to finish tied second so that is encouraging and I’ll take that thought into next week.”
Joint runner-up Price was delighted with his finishing position in a tournament he admitted he had given serious consideration to pulling out of after feeling so tired with his exertions at The K Club.
Like Clarke, Price knew he had to try and make a fast start but did just the opposite with a three putt bogey at the second. Although the Welshman recovered to be one under par for his round by the turn, holes were starting to run out and he covered the back nine in one under par figures too to secure his joint second place.
“I think deep down I probably felt Ernie was uncatchable today unless he had a slip-up early on which he didn’t do. But I am really pleased with myself. I have been tired but I managed to battle through every day and put in a really solid performance. Four rounds in the 60s is pretty good going.”
Although Els was the happiest man at Loch Lomond, one player not far behind him in the delighted stakes was Ireland’s Gary Murphy who closed with a fine 67 for a ten under par total of 274 and fourth place on his own.
Not only did it secure his card for the man who had to come through the Qualifying School last November, it also saw him top the list of eight players who qualified for next week’s Open Golf Championship through their performances at Loch Lomond.
“I am absolutely delighted,” said the man from Kilkenny. “I just tried to relax all day out there. It was hard to compose myself but I managed to do what I had to do.
“To be honest, it never even entered my mind about getting into the Open at the start of the week. My goal was to retain my card so to get into the Open as well was an added bonus.”
The other players to make it through from their performances were, in score order, Iain Pyman Mark Roe, Charl Schwartzel, David Lynn, Nick O’Hern, Rolf Muntz and Raphaël Jacquelin while Ian Poulter, Alastair Forsyth, Philip Golding, Søren Kjeldsen, Greg Owen, Mark McNulty and David Howell were the seven players to make it through from the cumulative money listing which ran from the Volvo Order of Merit to The Barclays Scottish Open.