Sunday, 11 December 2005

Reuters - Ernie Els cast aside any lingering doubts about his fitness with a three stroke victory at the dunhill championship at Leopard Creek Country Club. In what developed into a straight shoot-out with overnight leader Ulrich van den Berg of South Africa, Els carded a four under par 68 to finish on 14 under par 274 and overtake his fellow South African on the back nine. 


Els was playing in just his second comeback tournament after knee surgery following a sailing accident at the end of July.


"It's a dream, but it took a lot of work and a lot of rehab. After an injury like that, you're unsure of the future and how it will react," Els told reporters after his 22nd European Tour triumph.


Van den Berg's lead went up from two strokes overnight to four shots when he birdied four of the first six holes in the final round, but he bogeyed the par four ninth hole and then suffered an awful collapse with a triple bogey on the par four 11th and a double bogey on the short 16th, staggering home in 44 strokes.


Els knew the birdies would come and remained patient despite Van den Berg's blazing start. He capitalised on the overnight leader's misfortune with brilliant second shots on to the par five 13th and 15th greens to set up two birdies.


Van den Berg's four over par round of 76 saw him slide into a share of fourth place. The 30 year old went into the water on the par three 16th with a short tee shot and found trouble off the tee on the 11th, took a drop and hit his next shot into a greenside bunker before three-putting.


South African youngsters Louis Oosthuizen and defending champion Charl Schwartzel were in second position on 11 under par 277. Oosthuizen double bogeyed the ninth hole, after finding water twice, to go out in 37 strokes, but rallied with four birdies on the back nine. Schwartzel, who began the round three strokes off the lead, started on the right note by picking up birdies on the first two holes, but he slipped into a tie for second with bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes.


Englishman David Lynn moved into a tie for fourth place with a four under par 68 and was the highest-placed international player.


World Number Five Els had just one blemish on his card - a bogey on the treacherous par three seventh hole - and said he was delighted with the way he had played in the final round.


"I played consistently well and hit the ball solid. I concentrated on not making mistakes and I was happy I didn't put myself in trouble. You have to feel for Ulrich. After the wheels came off on 11 and then again on 16, he never lost his composure. He's a fine golfer and a wonderful sportsman and I don't know if I would have reacted that way," Els said.


Van den Berg, who has no European Tour playing privileges, said: "I melted down. I hit a bad tee shot on 11 and lost a lot of confidence."

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