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Els gets Major lift at Bay Hill

Ernie Els admitted yesterday's victory at a testing Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill was a real confidence boost ahead of The Masters.

The 40-year-old South African completed a second successive victory by surviving a tense finish to beat Italian Edoardo Molinari and American Kevin Na by two after the storm-hit event spilled into a fifth day.

Els, who resumed two ahead with four to play, lifted the WGC-CA Championship in Miami by a more comfortable four-shot margin two weeks ago and this was a far nervier affair.

"It feels an eternity because the last time I won here was '98," the South African said. "It was a tough finish for me. The changes (to the course) are unbelievable. It really tests your ability coming in. If you win here you can feel comfortable in majors."

Els, among 21 players unable to complete his final round on Sunday, saw his overnight lead cut to one when Na birdied the long 16th.

In the trees off the tee at the same hole, Els had to settle for par there, but as he saved another par from a greenside bunker on the short 17th Na found trouble down the last.

Driving into the right-hand rough led to a bogey five, dropped the Korean-born player alongside former US Amateur champion Molinari on nine under par. Both closed with three under 69s.

Els, who sank testing six-footers at the 15th and 17th, knew a bogey would be good enough at the final hole, but parred it for a 71, an 11 under aggregate and his 64th professional victory.

Molinari, meanwhile, once more overtakes his brother Francesco -- fourth in the Andalucian Open yesterday -- on the world rankings and has given his Ryder Cup chances another big boost.

GOLF might strike most people as a leisurely pursuit, but playing 72 holes over four days at a professional tour event demands an exceptionally high level of physical and mental fitness.

Ask Paul McGinley.

Dublin's Ryder Cup hero shot himself into contention at the Open de Andalucia with a magnificent second-round 66 in only his second tournament since undergoing knee surgery last November.

Yet after missing the cut on his return in Morocco the previous week, McGinley hadn't played three or more consecutive rounds in nearly five months.

McGinley admitted: "I really felt fatigued at the weekend. My match-fitness really is not quite up to it yet."

McGinley does up to three sessions each day in the gym as his rehab continues and feels physically stronger than ever. However, he believes he must now boost his aerobic fitness to compete over four days "at this level".

So the Irishman will play no more than two tournaments in succession until mid-summer.

His forthcoming outings will be next month's Volvo China Open and Ballantines Championship in Korea. McGinley will then skip the Italian and Spanish Opens, returning to action in Majorca on May 13, followed by the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

He'll rest-up the week of the Madrid Masters, hoping to be in peak form for the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor.