Gutsy Els holds on for Bay Hill victory
HONEST to a fault, Ernie Els suggested he'd limped across the finishing line at Bay Hill yesterday but the odds against the South African winning next week's US Masters were being slashed last night after he had sealed his second PGA Tour victory in three weeks.
In becoming the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 to win two events on the Florida Swing, Els, 40, needed to show in no little measure some of the mental toughness for which Woods is famous over the challenging final four holes at Bay Hill.
Els admitted he had played that finishing stretch over and over in his head during the fretful 22 hours which followed the suspension of the fourth round on Sunday when electrical storms swept in.
With his lead down from five strokes to two, Kevin Na turned the screw even tighter yesterday with a birdie four at 16 which put him within one of the South African.
Though grappling with his swing, Els still pulled off a series of gutsy par saves, not least a phenomenal up-and-down from a horrible, plugged lie in the front greenside bunker at 17.
This was a feat of major proportions. Na's chances expired when he dropped a shot at 18. He finished on nine-under, two strokes off Els in a tie for second with Edoardo Molinari.
After bridging the 12-year gap to his previous win here and completing back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour for the first time since the 2003 season, Els is battling like the Ernie of old.