Els Does It Again in Defense


VICTORIA, Australia -- Ernie Els fired a final round 7-under 65 Sunday to claim a one shot victory, and successfully defend his title, at the Heineken Classic. Els, who finished at 15-under 273, gained the win as Peter Lonard faltered on the final hole.
After dueling throughout the round, the tournament came down to the final hole and the final pairing. Lonard was tied with Els at minus-15 and overnight leader Nick Faldo was one stoke behind as he and Lonard teed off the final hole.
Lonard, who shot a 4-under 68, was unable to convert a 10-foot par putt at the last thus dropping him into a share of second place. Faldo, who had been tied for the lead through 12 holes, parred the final eight holes of the tournament to join Lonard in second place at 14-under 274.
The exciting final round dual included as many as six different players within one stroke of the lead during the round, after beginning the day with 16 golfers within four shots of the lead.
Els, who joins Michael Campbell as the only two men to win back-to-back Heineken Classic titles, began the day three shots behind Faldo. The two-time U.S. Open champion got off to a hot start with birdies on four of his first five holes to climb to 12-under. Els faltered at the sixth, his lone bogey of the day, to drop two shots off the pace.
The second-ranked player in the world parred his next two holes before back-to-back birdies beginning at the ninth got him to minus-13. Els was tied for second, one shot behind Faldo heading to the 13th after parring Nos. 11 and 12.
Els ran in a birdie putt at 13 to join Faldo and Lonard atop the leaderboard at 14-under.
'I think the shot that really made me believe I had a real chance to win was on the 13th,' said Els. 'It's a pretty tough par four and the flag was back left. I wasn't putting all that well and when I made the putt down the hill there, it gave me a bit of momentum going into that tough stretch of holes.'
Els notched his final birdie of the day at the 14th and took over first place by himself for the time being.
'I birdied 14, hitting a nice shot in there, and after that I could see I was in the lead,' Els said.
The 33-year-old parred in, including sinking a miraculous putt on 16, to finish at 15-under. Els also made a strong up-and-down from a bunker at the final hole to preserve his score.
Els, who seemed to be tiring after four tournaments in three different countries over the past four weeks, posted his third victory of the season. He previously won two PGA Tour events, the Mercedes Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii. He also finished second last week at the Caltex Masters in Singapore.
'I guess it all started at the World Match Play in October,' said Els, who has won four of the last five tournaments in which he has played. 'I remember my very first match there I shot 60. That was quite nice. Then I kept it going. I had a good schedule, nice, easy schedule to the end of the year.'
Lonard started his day one shot behind Faldo. He posted birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 5 to get to 12-under. He was still one behind Faldo at that point. However, the 1997 Ericsson Masters champion took the lead with a birdie on eight. Lonard followed that with another birdie at nine to make the turn at minus-14, one stroke ahead of Faldo and Els.
The 2001 ANZ Championship winner parred 10 and 11 to remain at 14-under, as Els and Faldo tied him for the lead. Lonard stretched his string of pars to four straight with pars at Nos. 12 and 13. At this point, Lonard had fallen one behind Els.
Lonard birdied 14 to move back into a share of the lead with Els. Lonard then parred 15 through 17. He faltered, with just his third bogey of the tournament, on the final hole to drop back to second place after finding the same bunker as Els did.
Faldo, who closed with a 3-under 69, started quickly with birdies on his first two holes, including his fourth birdie of the tournament at the par-5 second, to move to minus-13. He maintained a one stroke lead with pars on the next three holes.
The six-time major winner dropped into a share of the lead with a bogey at six. Faldo later fell one behind Lonard, when Lonard birdied the eighth.
Faldo climbed back into a tie for the lead with consecutive birdies beginning at the ninth. Faldo remained at 14-under as he parred the last eight holes he played, dropping as low as third place before finishing tied with Lonard in second.
Needing a birdie to tie the lead on the final hole, Faldo hit his second shot over the green and could only manage to get up-and-down for par.
Paul Casey (70), Stephen Gallacher (65) and Soren Kjeldsen (67), who were all within a shot of the lead at different points during the final round, finished tied for fourth at 12-under 276. They were joined there by Gary Evans (66) and David Lynn (69).
Peter Fowler and Bob Friend tied for ninth two shots further back at minus-10. Stephen Allan, John Bickerton and David Bransdon shared 11th place at 9-under.
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