Els gets first victory in two years

Ernie Els showed his South African protege what it takes to win a

World Golf Championship. Just as important was that he showed

himself how to win again, too.

Ending the longest drought of his 20-year career, Els played

the final 23 holes on the Blue Monster without a bogey and closed

with a 6-under 66 on Sunday to win the CA Championship by four

shots over Charl Schwartzel.

It was far closer than the margin suggested.

Schwartzel, 25, in his first time on a world stage, refused

to let Els get away from him. Els was clinging to a one-shot lead

as he stood over a 25-foot par putt on the 14th hole, and the Big

Easy was relieved to see it fall on the final turn.

Schwartzel, a houseguest of Els the past two weeks, caught a

bad break on the 15th hole when his ball plugged in a front bunker,

and he knocked that into a back bunker on his way to a crucial

bogey. He missed short putts on the next two holes and closed with

a 70.

That allowed Els a strange sensation, walking up to the 18th

green with his cap in hand, waving to the gallery, unable to

contain a smile that showed equal parts relief and satisfaction.

“I’m 40 years old. I’ve had a tough run,” Els said. “Whew!

The hairs are standing up. It’s just great.”

Els last won two years ago at the Honda Classic, which he won

while warming up on the range for a possible playoff. He became

only the fifth player with multiple victories in the World Golf

Championships, joining Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke, Geoff Ogilvy and

Phil Mickelson.

It was his 61st victory worldwide and 17th on the PGA Tour,

and moved Els to No. 8 in the world rankings.

“My game was in good shape,” said Els, who finished at

18-under 270. “I just wanted to prove to myself for once. Charl

came at me all day. I had to come up with the goods.”

It was a strong effort by Schwartzel, who has considered Els

a hero since he first started playing golf. Despite two bogeys on

the final four holes, he was the only player to give Els a run. And

he was poised to take him down until his tee shot left him little

hope in the sand.

“I plugged and that was a killer,” Schwartzel said. “For

me, it’s been the biggest stage I’ve had. This is a good day for

me.”

Padraig Harrington fell out of contention with three straight

bogeys on the back nine, closing with a 72 to tie for third at

11-under 277 along with Matt Kuchar (68) and Martin Kaymer of

Germany, who had a 69 and moved up to No. 7 in the world.

Alistair Presnell of Australia matched the best round of the

day with a 64 and tied for sixth. Defending champion Phil

Mickelson, who was never in the mix, shot a 68 and tied for 14th.

Els could not have imagined being in the final group at Doral

with Schwartzel, and to see the two South Africans standing on the

first tee under warm sunshine, it was easy to see what the Big Easy

meant.

To think that Schwartzel was 2 when his father and Els won a

club tournament together or that he was among the gangly teens who

traveled with the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation junior team.

More recently, Els invited the Schwartzel to stay in his South

Florida home while Schwartzel was passing time between two WGC

events.

And they stayed together for so much of the final round,

trading birdies and keeping their names atop the leaderboard.

Els made birdie from the bunker on the opening hole.

Schwartzel answered with a 25-foot birdie on the second. Els

followed with two straight birdies, the most impressive on the

223-yard fourth with a shot into 8 feet despite a vicious

right-to-left wind. Schwartzel fell three shots behind with a bogey

from the bunker on No. 5, only to birdie his next three holes.

No one else joined the chase.

Harrington played bogey-free for 12 holes, but he had only

two birdies. Robert Allenby pulled within a shot with an opening

birdie, then went 10 holes before making another one. Kaymer went

out in 33, then failed to make birdie on the par 5s on the back

nine.

It became a South African duel in Miami, and Schwartzel gave

Els about all he could handle until the end. After his bogey on the

15th, he left a 10-foot birdie putt short on the 16th, then drove

into the palm trees on the 17th and took bogey.

Els suddenly has good vibes as he begins his road to the

Masters, the one major that has haunted him throughout his career.

His victory was worth $1.4 million, and moved him past Colin

Montgomerie and atop the PGA European Tour career money list with

about $33.6 million.