Els on top of the World
Padraig Harrington had to settle for a share of third place at Doral last night as South African Ernie Els (40) came out on top in a thrilling all-Springbok battle with Charl Schwartzel (25) for the CA World Championship of Golf.
Harrington's prospects of registering his first victory on Tour since lifting the US PGA at Oakland Hills in August 2008 were scuppered by an unhappy hat-trick of bogeys in the middle of his back nine yesterday. The Dubliner really stoked-up his prospects with a first-class 66 on Saturday and he'd have played in the final group with Els yesterday but for an irritating three-putt at the final hole.
So Harrington set out yesterday one stroke behind Els and Schwartzel and, if truth be told, didn't play with the same aplomb from tee to green in the final round. Two under and well off the pace being set by Els as he walked onto the tee at 13, Harrington hit his tee shot at this par-three into the face of the front bunker, leading to his first bogey of the day.
Two more dropped shots at 14 and 15, where he shaved the hole with putts of 10 and 15 feet respectively, left him with too much work to do over the final three holes.
Though he rolled in a lovely 16-footer for birdie at 16, Harrington had to be satisfied with a share of third place on 11-under with Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer after wrapping-up with a level-par 72. There was no stopping Els, however, as he fired a superb 66 to win on 18 under par, four shots ahead of Schwartzel, who had a 70.
Graeme McDowell emphatically stamped 'Mission Accomplished' on his campaign after taming the Blue Monster with a faultless final-round 66. This splendid afternoon's work and a top-six finish will earn enough world rankings points to ensure the 30-year-old Ulsterman hangs onto his place in the world's top-50 when the new rankings are unveiled today ... so McDowell will tee it up in the Arnie Palmer invitational at Bay Hill on Thursday week.
He finished tied second with Vijay Singh in Arnie Palmer's prestigious tournament in 2005 and views the tournament as a significant step in his build-up to the US Masters a fortnight later.
Bad luck denied McDowell the reward his high-quality golf deserved at The Honda Classic but there was no stopping him yesterday as he played with precision from tee to green and, where required, sank a couple of real bombs with his putter.
After opening with a birdie on the par-five first, McDowell fired a spectacular string of five successive birdies through the turn, holing out from all of 39 feet at the ninth and sinking another wonderful effort from 25 feet at 11.
Rory McIlroy will leave the disappointment of Doral behind this morning when he steps onto the hallowed turf at Augusta National for three days' reconnaissance before next month's US Masters.
McIlroy had little reason to look back on the CA Championship with fondness after four thoroughly frustrating rounds left him tied 65th with Steve Marino on seven over, ahead only of Oliver Wilson (+8) and Michael Sim (+12) at the foot of the scoreboard.
After opening with a 76 last Thursday, McIlroy followed up with three successive 73s, registering just seven birdies in 72 holes, reflecting the 20-year-old's imprecision from tee to green.
The Holywood youngster headed off last night to watch the Miami Heat basketball team for the second time in 72 hours, joking: "It's probably the only thing that's making me smile."
He's been battling the recurrence of a back problem for the last six weeks, but at least that was better in his final round. "The back isn't worrying me, but it's getting me down," said McIlroy, adding: "Half of it is probably mental. I'm starting off in a negative mood."
McIlroy returns to tournament action next Thursday week when he also tees it up at the Arnie Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Ian Poulter, who started the final day level with McIlroy on six-under, showed just how vulnerable the Blue Monster was early yesterday when he shot the low round of the week, an eight-under par, which lifted him into the top-40 on two-under.
Unheralded Aussie Alistair Presnell (30) who qualified for Doral though his national tour and holds US Nationwide credentials for 2010, sensationally matched Poulter's 64 to ensure a cheque big enough to cover many of his playing expenses for the entire season.
Phil Mickelson overcame pain in his left elbow after jarring it in the rough on Saturday to shoot a closing 68 and a likely top-15 finish on eight-under, an encouraging performance from the World No 2, whose focus these days, naturally, is on his wife Amy's ongoing battle with breast cancer.