Sun Sentinel
European Golf Tour
Els fends off Goosen for fifth South African Open title



Durban, South Africa (Sports Network) - Ernie Els held off a hard-charging Retief Goosen on Sunday to win his national championship for a fifth time at the South African Open Championship.

Els posted a six-under 66 on Sunday, but Goosen nearly caught the three-time major winner. Goosen birdied his last three holes and four of his last five, but his 66 came up a stroke short.

Els took a four-shot lead thanks to a 20-foot eagle at the par-five 14th. Goosen birdied the same hole, but Els had a seemingly insurmountable edge with four holes to play.

Goosen rolled in an improbable 50-footer for birdie at the 16th, then nearly holed it from the fairway at the 17th. He settled for a birdie and was only down two with the closing hole to play.

Goosen was able to make a par at the last, but Els two-putted from close range to secure the title, his third worldwide in the calendar year.

"This makes the year really good now," said Els in a television interview. "It was a wonderful choice to come. For me, personally, it was a great championship obviously."

Els finished at 25-under 263 to polish off a strange week weather-wise at Durban Country Club.

Most of Thursday's first-round action was washed out due to inclement weather. The first round was played on Friday, the second on Saturday and Sunday featured a 36-hole final.

Almost.

On Sunday, a heavy storm, which delayed the start of the third round for an hour, left the par-three fourth unplayable. The decision was made to give every golfer a par on the hole.

So Sunday's much-anticipated 36-hole marathon turned into a 34-hole marathon.

The champion and runner-up weren't the only strong showings for South African golf.

Louis Oosthuizen, the British Open champion, shot a 66 in Sunday's final round and took third at 21-under 267. Charl Schwartzel, a runner-up last week at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, managed a five-under 67 and came in fourth at minus-18.

But Sunday's final round came down to a battle of South Africa's two most successful players of this generation.

Els began round four with a one-shot cushion, and a birdie at the third, coupled with a Goosen bogey, gave The Big Easy a three-stroke advantage. Els got four clear with a birdie at six, but Goosen chipped into the lead.

Goosen birdied the seventh, then the par-five eighth became a crucial swing hole. Els drove into the woods and ultimately pulled a short par putt. His bogey along with Goosen's five-foot birdie trimmed Els' margin to a single shot.

Els padded the lead with a nine-foot birdie putt at No. 9. Both players birdied the par-five 10th, but Els moved three ahead thanks to a 12-foot birdie putt at the 12th.

After his eagle, it looked like Els would cruise, but Goosen fought hard.

"I knew he was going to be my guy," Els said of Goosen in a televised interview. "I really wanted to play well today. He made it very tough coming in."

Robert Rock (67) and Romain Wattel (68) shared fifth place at 16-under 272. First-round co-leader Alex Cejka (68) and Victor Riu (69) tied for seventh at minus-15.

NOTES: This was Els' 24th European Tour victory...Els won the WGC-CA Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the U.S...The next European Tour event is the Africa Open on January 6, where Schwartzel will be on hand to defend his title.

12/19 12:39:40 ET