Sunday, 05 October 2003
World Number One, Tiger Woods, maintained his remarkable front-running record to notch up his 52nd victory worldwide in the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship at Capital City Club, Atlanta, as Ernie Els came close to sealing a first Volvo Order of Merit crown.

Woods secured his seventh victory from 13 starts in the World Golf Championships series since it began in 1999, closing with a two over par 72 for a six under par total of 274 and a two stroke win over Australian Stuart Appleby, Tim Herron of the United States and Fiji’s Vijay Singh.

Meanwhile Els signed for a last round of 67 to share 12th place, but his cheque for €77,839 was just insufficient for him to succeed Retief Goosen as the Harry Vardon Trophy winner. Instead, his nearest rival, Darren Clarke, must win both the Telefonica Open de Madrid and the Volvo Masters Andalucia in successive weeks in order to claim the crown from Els, who is not playing in either event.

Woods underlined his class by winning his fifth title of the season while five European Tour Members finished in the top ten and nine in the top 20. Honorary Member Singh also carded a 72 for 276 while a superb closing 66 from Ireland’s Padraig Harrington elevated him to a share of sixth place on 279, one under par.

England’s Paul Casey, despite suffering from a fever early in the week and a back problem on Friday, surprised himself to share eighth place on 281 with South African Retief Goosen, the Volvo Order of Merit winner in 2001 and 2002. Els came next on 283 along with Germany’s Alex Cejka, whose Sunday 65 equalled the best of the day, US Open Champion, Jim Furyk, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia. One stroke further behind were a group of four players including Sweden’s Niclas Fasth.

Woods, who had won on 29 occasions out of 31 when he led going into the final round, added another impressive notch to that statistic, despite being unable to break par for the first time during the week. Heron managed to climb within a stroke of Woods thanks to an outward 33 but the difficulty of the course ensured that there were more bogeys made than birdies on the back nine.

Although Woods contributed two of them, the lead he has constructed thanks to three rounds of 67-66-69 made certain of another successful week for the world’s top ranked player.

The victory was also the 100th for New Zealand caddie Steve Williams and Woods said: "People have no idea how big this win is. I've been trying all summer to get him to 100. He has meant a lot to the success I've had. I wanted it to be a Major so it was disappointing that I slipped at the Open."

He added: "This is the way it should be - hard and fast greens are fun. I enjoy playing in tournaments when you can shoot par every day and have a chance to win."

Defending the title he won at Mount Juliet in Ireland last year - and where he will now defend it again next season - Woods was two in front with a round to go this time and, although that twice came down to one shot when he bogeyed the ninth and 14th, he was never caught.

Els was reluctant to accept any plaudits as long as Clarke still has the opportunity to pass him. The Irishman was not quite prepared to concede the title, even though he will play in Madrid and Valderrama in a last-ditch attempt to overhaul the long-time leader.

“As it’s technically possible, I will probably go to Madrid. I'd be foolish not to," said the Ulsterman, who is playing in this week's tournament in Las Vegas to try to secure a spot in the US PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

"But Ernie deserves it more I do. He's won more and played better over the season. I've no qualms at all. I've hit the ball well enough to be a lot closer to him than I am, but I couldn't turn that into scores on a consistent basis. It's the same old story."

Clarke needs to claim the first prizes of €233,330 available in Madrid and €583,330 in the Volvo Masters Andalucia in order to triumph – and even then it would only be by a small matter of €412.

Els, for his part, knows that he has done things the hard way, earning approximately 80 per cent of his winnings from tournaments outside the four Major Championships and the three individual World Golf Championships.

He pointed out: “I paid my dues. I played everywhere on The European Tour and on the US PGA Tour so, yes, it would be nice it happens. There would definitely be a great sense of achievement.

“This is probably the fullest season I’ve played in Europe and my four wins on The European Tour helped me get into this position. Darren did what he had to do to get back into the race by winning the WGC – NEC Invitational and I am sure he will go flat out to beat me yet!”

Harrington, who had closed with three straight bogeys on Saturday, finished his tournament with three consecutive birdies this time, chipping in at the last from a horrendously difficult lie.

Finishing on one under par, he was one of only seven players in ‘red figures’ and said: “I would have taken level par at the start of the week and I did one better than that. My game is getting back into shape. I worked hard on my mental game this week and I overcame some tough mental challenges. It was important to play well before taking a two week break.”

Casey, with a closing 71, moved up to a share of eighth and, like Harrington, earned a nice chunk of Ryder Cup World Points. Helped by a four iron to one foot for an eagle three at the 12th, the Englishman finished strongly and commented: “I thought about pulling out after three holes on Friday, so in the circumstances to finish in the top ten is pretty good.”

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