Ernie Els worked harder than ever Sunday to win the CA Championship.
Two years without a victory—the longest drought of his career—and playing with all the pressure against a South African protege whom he helped groom for such a stage, Els played the final 23 holes without a bogey on the Blue Monster and closed with a 6-under 66 for a four-shot victory over Charl Schwartzel.
Els looked every bit like his nickname as he sauntered toward the 18th green, raising his cap to the crowd with an easy smile. It was as much relief as it was satisfaction.
“I’m 40 years old. I’ve had a tough run, Els said. “Whew! The hairs are standing up. It’s just great.”
He returned to among the elite in golf at No. 8 in the world and became only the fifth player to win multiple times in the World Golf Championships, joining
Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke, Geoff Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson.
“I basically just wanted to make 5 and get out of there, Els said. “I haven’t been making those kind of putts, and you have to make putts like that towin golf tournaments at some point. Luckily for me, I did it on the 14th hole today. And absolutely, I felt a lot better after that. I felt like maybe this one is for me this week.”
Els finished at 18-under 270 to win for the 61st time worldwide, and 17th time on the PGA Tour.
Schwartzel, a houseguest of Els the last two weeks, caught a bad break on the 15th hole when his ball plugged in a front bunker, and he knocked that into a back bunker on his way to a crucial bogey. He missed short putts on the next two holes and closed with a 70.
Els made birdie from the bunker on the opening hole. Schwartzel answered with a 25-foot birdie on the second. Els followed with two straight birdies, the most impressive on the 223-yard fourth with a shot into 8 feet despite a vicious right-to-left wind. Schwartzel fell three shots behind with a bogey from the bunker on No. 5, only to birdie his next three holes.
Els suddenly has good vibes as he begins his road to the Masters, the one major that has haunted him throughout his career. His victory was worth $1.4 million, and moved him past Colin Montgomerie and atop the PGA European Tour career money list with about $33.6 million.
Next up is his charity event Monday to raise money for autism, a major cause for Els since learning his son, Ben, is autistic. Ben is 7, and Els says he is a few years away from appreciating what his father accomplished Sunday.