Els ends drought on PGA Tour

Monday, March 3, 2008
Ernie Els blasted out of a sand trap next to the 17th green during Sunday's final round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (J. PAT CARTER ~ Associated Press)

This time, Ernie Els could enjoy someone else's final-round misfortune.

Ending nearly a four-year drought between PGA Tour victories, Els shot a 3-under 67 on Sunday to win The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He finished at 6 under, one shot better than Luke Donald (71) and two ahead of Nathan Green (67).

"It's been a long time coming," Els said.

Els and Mark Calcavecchia were tied for the lead as the sun began setting on PGA National. But Calcavecchia hit into a greenside bunker at the par-3 15th, and his shot from the sand looked fine when it hit the green.

Somehow, it never stopped rolling.

England's Ernie Els kisses his trophy after winning the Honda Classic golf tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Sunday, March 2, 2008. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)

"I certainly never dreamed it would run into the water," Calcavecchia said. "It just didn't grab and just kept rolling and rolling and rolling. And that was it."

The ball came to rest on a rock ledge across the green. Calcavecchia walked over, tossed the ball into the water and made a double bogey to give Els the outright lead.

Els made par on the par-5 finishing hole, then waited to see if anyone would match his score.

No one did, although Donald had a chance on the last. His birdie chip from just off the green stopped a couple feet shy of the cup, sealing Els' win.

"To win over here, it's been really my goal," Els said. "So it's a great feeling."

And with that, Els got the huge shot of confidence that he's sought for so long, along with his first PGA Tour win since the 2004 American Express Championship in Ireland. Plus, he'll jump a spot to third in the world rankings, passing Steve Stricker.

"I really played pretty well today," Els said.

Calcavecchia (73), Robert Allenby (70) and Matt Jones (73) tied for fourth, three shots back. Brian Davis, who was at 10 under earlier in the week and led at the midway mark, shot his second straight 73 and finished in a five-way tie for seventh, four shots off the winning score.

Els hadn't won any of his last 47 appearances on the PGA Tour and wasted a four-shot, final-round lead in a European tour event in Dubai earlier this year, when Tiger Woods roared past him for a victory. Els made a colossal mistake on the 18th hole that day, splashing his approach into the water after trying to pull off a spectacular finish.

But this time, a smooth, steady finish got it done.

"On a golf course this tough, anything can happen," Els said.

There were 14 changes atop the leaderboard Sunday.

LPGA Tour

Lorena Ochoa completed a runaway victory in her first tournament of the year, closing with a 4-under 68 to leave Annika Sorenstam 11 strokes behind in the rain-slowed HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

Competing for the first time since winning the ADT Championship in November for her eighth 2007 victory, Ochoa finished at 20-under 268 on Tanah Merah's Garden Course. The top-ranked Mexican star earned $300,000 for her 18th career LPGA Tour victory.

Sorenstam shot a 71 in the rainy afternoon conditions for her third straight top-four finish. Slowed by neck and back injuries last year, she won this year's season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii for her 70th LPGA Tour title and first since September 2006, then finished fourth last week in the Fields Open.

Paula Creamer, the Fields Open winner, shot a 73 to finish third at 7 under.

In an event where only 13 players finished under par, Ochoa opened with rounds of 66, 65 and 69 to take an eight-stroke lead over Sorenstam and Creamer. Ochoa missed a chance to break Cindy Mackey's 72-hole record for margin of victory of 14, but topped her own mark of 10 in the 2006 Tournament of Champions.

-- The Associated Press

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