Ernie Els secured his fourth victory on The European Tour International Schedule in 2003 and his sixth worldwide this season when he accelerated away from the field to win the Omega European Masters by six shots at Crans-Sur-Sierre in Switzerland.
Starting the final day two behind two-time champion Eduardo Romero of Argentina, Els reeled off four straight birdies to exert the pressure on his rivals and the South African simply hit cruise control and went on to win impressively with a closing round of 65 for a 17 under par total of 267.
Els, who had never figured in the shake-up during his three previous visits to the wonderful Alpine setting, extended his lead over Darren Clarke at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit with his winner’s cheque for €266,660 lifting his earnings to €2,427,475.
It has been a rich harvest for Els this year, beginning with his back to back wins in Hawaii on the US PGA Tour. He then claimed the Heineken Classic and the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia before collecting a second Barclays Scottish Open title at Loch Lomond in July.
Victory at Crans-sur-Sierre means that Els joined Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Ian Woosnam as players who have won four of more times in a season on The European Tour.
Els said: “This was very special because of my relationship with Omega and their sponsorship of the event. I made the perfect start today to do something special with four birdies but that was a career par at the fifth. What a hole that was. But from being two behind all of a sudden I was ahead and although I lost a bit of rhythm due to the rulings after my brilliant start, I felt I kept everything together.”
Despite a substantial lead at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit, Els intends playing two more events on The European Tour International Schedule – the dunhill links championship and the WGC – American Express Championship.
He added: “You can ask me about the Volvo Order of Merit after the American Express. Darren won a million bucks in the NEC Invitational and – boom – he’s back into it and there are a lot of other guys playing well. There is still a lot to play for – the dunhill links championship has a big purse – and anything can happen.”
Since the start of The 2002 European Tour International Schedule, Els has played 30 official events, winning seven and amassing 16 top ten finishes and winning €4,679,183.
This success, though, was seldom in doubt after the World Number Two opened with that birdie barrage then made a “career” par at the fifth after receiving no fewer than three free drops.
As defending champion Robert Karlsson took a double bogey at the second and a bogey at the fourth, while Romero’s putting touch deserted him, Els was at his imperious best. After a lengthy ruling at the fifth, where he gained relief for three separate incidents, he had the temerity to hole from 30 feet for par.
Karlsson, who led all the way in 2002 and for the first 36 holes this year, struck back with birdies at the seventh, eighth and tenth, but could not apply any real pressure on the runaway leader.
The title was made safe for Els when both Karlsson and Romero went into the water at the long 14th and he proceeded to birdie the 15th and 17th as Michael Campbell of New Zealand charged through the field to claim second place on 273, 11 under par.
Campbell, five under par after eight holes, bogeyed the ninth to 11th as his chance was extinguished and after a final round of 66 he admitted: “These were weak bogeys and meant I had too much work to do. They stopped me in my tracks. I hoped I could birdie three of the last four holes but it wasn’t to be and Ernie certainly showed his class.”
Romero was the only player in the field unable to prise a solitary birdie from the course and his 74 left him in third place with Emanuele Canonica of Italy, Andrew Coltart of Scotland and Karlsson sharing fourth on 275.
“I putted terrible” said Romero. “Nothing happened for me today and it didn’t help that I had to wait about half an hour for a ruling at the fifth. That made concentration difficult. I tried my hardest to win but it wasn’t to be.”