Els All Smiles in Australia


Ernie Els shot his third straight round of 3-under 69 en route to a wire-to-wire victory at the Heineken Classic Sunday. He finished at 17-under 271, five strokes clear of his closest competitors.
Els became the second South African in as many weeks to earn a win in Australia. Last weekend at the Lake Karrinyup Country Club Retief Goosen posted an eight-shot victory at the Johnnie Walker Classic. This week at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Els put on a brilliant performance of his own.
'I felt very comfortable all week,' said Els. 'It's very early now but this is going to give me a little bit of form going into the next couple of weeks.'
The two-time U.S. Open winner began the day four strokes clear of Peter O'Malley and picked up two shots with birdies on the second and seventh. But Els' round would not be without adversity.
After three-putting for bogey on the sixth, he added another bogey on the eighth in identical fashion to drop back to 14-under.
Meanwhile, Greg Norman stepped up to play the part of challenger. The Australian got off to a good start with five birdies and one bogey to make the turn at 11-under and pose an impending threat to Els.
On the par-5 10th, Norman reached the green in two to set up a long eagle try. He elected to two-putt for birdie and pulled within two strokes of Els to the delight of the local fans.
'I knew it was going to be an uphill struggle for most of the day,' said Norman. 'All in all it was a good week, I just know I need a little bit more match practice.'
Els responded with a birdie on the par-5 ninth to make the turn at 15-under and gave a decisive blow to the remainder of the field on the following hole.
Like Norman, Els reached the green in two, hitting his approach seven feet past the hole. He calmly rolled in the putt for an eagle, mimicking his result on the same hole in Round 3. Els climbed to 17-under and never looked back.
'I thought that was going to be easier that it actually was,' said Els. 'There's only one man that makes that sort of noise around here and that's Greg.'
Els played the last eight holes at even-par for the win and a first-place prize of $190,000.
'It was great to win as it was a very good field on a very nice course, so I am really pleased as it sets up my year nicely,' he said.
The South African earned his seventh career title on the European Tour and his first since the 2000 Standard Life Loch Lomond.
The Australian duo of Peter Fowler (67) and O'Malley (70) shared second along with David Howell (68) of England at 12-under 276.
Two-time defending champion Michael Campbell carded a 3-under 69 to finish alone in fifth at 11-under 277.
Norman bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16 to close out his round at 10-under 278. The 1993 British Open winner finished alongside fellow countryman Stephen Leaney (70) and England's Nick Faldo (69).
'I made it a goal this year that I want to enjoy myself at the golf tournaments,' said Faldo. 'When I get a nice run like this it's good to hopefully scare the youngsters for a while.'
Full-Field Scores from the Heineken Classic