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Sunday, 18 December 2005

Retief Goosen held off a determined challenge from his close friend and compatriot Ernie Els to win the South African Airways Open at The Links Golf Club at Fancourt in George, South Africa – exactly ten years after he last won the world’s second oldest Open Championship.

 Els, who captured his 21st European Tour title in the the dunhill championship last week, seemed to have missed his chance of recording back-to-back victories on home soil when he double bogeyed the 12th after pulling his second shot into a water hazard.

But the 36 year old two-time European Tour Order of Merit winner stormed back with a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th to draw level with playing partner Goosen – also a double winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy – with two holes to play.

However it was Goosen who conjured up the decisive blow at the 17th when he chipped in for a birdie two on the 17th to edge clear once more and he also birdied the last with a pitch and putt from through the green after Els missed from close range for an eagle three to force a sudden-death play-off.

Goosen's final round of 70 gave him a ten under par total of 282, one better than  Els, whose five under under par 68 was one of the most accomplished rounds of the week on a hugely testing links course close to his own home in George.

Darren Fichardt and France's Gregory Bourdy shared third place on two under par, the only other players in red figures – an indication of the severity of the test facing the field over the par 73 lay-out.

Goosen, who was collecting his 13th European Tour title, said: "Ernie played very well and I got away with it at the end there. It's great to win this trophy again. The last time was ten years ago so it's great to get my hands on it again."

"It was one of those chips that I can normally get to within eight feet, and it just went in," Goosen said of his decisive birdie on the penultimate hole.

Els, though, proved once more that he has recovered fully from the knee surgery which kept him sidelined for five months during 2005 and he has moved up to third place on The European Tour Order of Merit behind David Howell with €273,636 (£184,315).

By coincidence, Goosen has won his national Open in 1995 at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, where he also beat Els for the title, winning by five strokes on that occasion. Goosen enjoyed a three stroke lead over Els going into the final round but Els chipped away and drew level with a birdie at the eighth. Goosen responded with a 25 foot birdie putt at the ninth to take a one stroke lead into the final nine holes.

The championship seemed certain to go Goosen’s way when Els double bogeyed the 12th after pitching into the hazard left of the green, forcing him to take a penalty drop. That gave Goosen a three stroke lead. But Els surged back into contention with three successive birdies from the 14th to again draw level with Goosen, who had parred every hole since the 12th.

 

Both their tee shots missed the green at the par three 17th. This time it was Goosen who produced the magic when he chipped in from the back of the green to take a one stroke lead to the 18th tee. After two solid drives, Goosen was the first to hit and put his second over the back of the green. Els in turn hit a magnificent approach to five feet. Goosen chipped up to three feet, leaving Els his eagle putt. But Els lipped out allowing Goosen a simple birdie putt for the win.

  

Patrick O’Brien signed for a course record six under par 67, which included six birdies, an eagle and one bogey. O’Brien started strong with four birdies in his first six holes, but unfortunately only improved to 14 over par for the tournament.

 

Port Elizabeth’s Humewood Golf Club, one of the most historic layouts in world golf, will host the South African Airways Open next December as part of the 2006/07 season. 

 

 

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