Ernie Els was waiting on the practice putting green for the play-off, which never happened. With neither Nick Faldo nor Peter Lonard matching his 15-under-par 273, the South African ended up bagging the Heineken Classic to bring his recent tally of triumphs to an extraordinary five in seven starts.LEWINE MAIR
Ernie Els was waiting on the practice putting green for the play-off, which never happened. With neither Nick Faldo nor Peter Lonard matching his 15-under-par 273, the South African ended up bagging the Heineken Classic to bring his recent tally of triumphs to an extraordinary five in seven starts.
"I got lucky," the unassuming Els said in a reference to how Faldo, who needed a birdie at the 18th, hit through the green and Lonard, for whom a par would have sufficed, caught sand.
In playing alongside Lonard over the first two days, Els had a 70 and a 72, which left him 10 shots off the lead. "If," Els said, "you'd asked Peter if he thought I could still win the tournament, he would have said: `No way!' " No one did ask Lonard but they asked his caddie and he was blithely maintaining that Els had been lucky not to miss the cut.
That Els's rhythm was a million miles away in those two rounds, maybe owed something to all the travelling he had been doing.
After his back-to-back wins in the Mercedes Championship and the Sony, he had got into his plane in Hawaii thinking that he would reach Singapore and the Caltex Masters in eight or nine hours.
It came as a shock when he learnt that the journey was more, like 15 hours. Once in Singapore, he contracted a touch of flu, which he only shook off a week before the start of Heineken Classic.
After 72, Els put golf out of his mind by going for a swim — and returned to shoot the 66 which brought him back into the reckoning.
After starting at eight under to Faldo's 11 under, he opened with three birdies in his first four holes.
Out in 32, he then came up with three more birdies, none more important than his effort at the 389-yard 13th, where he holed downhill from 12 feet to arrive on the same 14-under mark as the leaders.
He moved ahead with a holed four-footer at the 14th before matching par at Royal Melbourne's exacting run of finishing par fours.
This linksland course, with its fast fairways and parched rough, called for good course management above all else.
Els excelled in that department over the weekend, but it did him no harm that he was also the longest hitter.
Armed with his new Titleist driver, his drives were averaging out at 317 yards compared to the 308 of Thomas Bjorn.
Asked to go back to the beginning of his current seam of form, Els made mention of his 60 in the first 18 holes of his opening round against Colin Montgomerie in the World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth. "After that, I just kind of kept it going," he said.
When Faldo was asked to explain what it was like to be on the kind of roll Els is enjoying at the moment, the winner of six majors said it was about having the ability to make things happen. "Ernie would have woken up this morning and said: `I'll need a 65 to win.' "
Faldo was upset only with his second to the 18th. Unable to decide between an eight and a nine, he had gone for the eight after Lonard had hit into the guardian trap. Given another go, he would almost certainly have opted for the nine but, at the time, he thought he would look "a right Charlie" if he made the same mistake as his playing companion.
With six years having elapsed since his last win, Faldo admitted he had felt a little rusty coming down the stretch but that he had learnt a lot.
"I'm pleased that I'm fathoming it all out again and that I stuck in there against the hottest man in golf," he said.
As to how he thought Els would now fare against Tiger Woods, he seemed to relish the thought of them meeting as much as the next man. "Ernie is going to be hot. It could be very interesting."
Faldo and his wife, Valerie, who are expecting their first child in July, had a holiday in Bali.
They were joined by four other professionals and their wives, including Ernie and Liezl Els, before the Johnnie Walker tournament in Perth.
The Bali tourist board took care of all the expenses of the couples.
Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003