Erine Els Proves Nice Guys Can Finish First

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

MIAMI - MARCH 24:  Erine Els of South Africa hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the World Golf Championship CA Championship at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa on March 24, 2007 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

On a balmy and blustery day in South Florida, Ernie Els ended his victory drought, defeating his countryman and house guest, Charl Schwartzel, by four shots.

“I know what works for me now,” Els said, “and that’s hard work.”

He had been practicing a great deal for the past several weeks, working on the basics and making them important again.

“I really wanted to prove it to myself and just play good golf,” he said. “I finally had to trust it at some stage, and there’s no better day to really test yourself than today, fourth round of the golf tournament, everything on the line.” 

After playing a pro-member tournament at Seminole on Monday morning, Els went to the Bear’s Club and practiced until dusk.  That’s when he found what he had been missing.  

One issue, he said, has been ball flight, and during the pro-member at Seminole, he.was in a group with Lee Westwood. Els felt that his ball striking was not in the same category.

“I didn’t ask him anything, but I was watching,” Els said. “I’ve got to get my ball flight perfect for Augusta.”

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Schwartzel, this week’s Cinderella, already has two victories in 2010. And though he did not raise the trophy on Sunday, he demonstrated that he does have the right golf stuff.  He also earned his PGA Tour card with his second place finish.

“You guys can really see him in all his glory,” Els said about Schwartzel.  However, he did admit, “If he won today, he was definitely staying in the garden! There’s no question about it.”

None of the other top players presented a challenge, but Schwartzel and Els were as close as rides at NASCAR with Els posting a 32 and Schwartzel a 33 on the front nine. It was at the 17th when the wheels came off for Schwartzel. He left a ball in the bunker, then missed a bogey putt completely ending his chances, but he was two back at the 17th tee, and so it was unlikely that Els would lose.

The clutch hole for Els was the 14th , where he drained a 24-foot putt for par after driving in the rough, hitting a second shot into the rough and a third onto the green. 

“I haven’t been making those putts, and you have to make putts like that to win golf tournaments,” Els admitted. “I felt a lot better after that. I felt like maybe this one is for me this week.”

Els said after the victory that he does not want to look ahead too far. 

“Two years ago when I won, I got all carried away and thought, you know I was going to win Augusta,” he said with a wry smile.  “This time I just want to take this in.  I’ve got to really get these things I’m working on, get really drilled out a bit more, and really be comfortable with it.”  

Next for Els is his  Pro-Am to benefit the Els for Autism Foundation, which will be played Monday at PGA National. Els' son, Ben, is autistic.

“Basically our plan is, with the money and help of investors, to build a really worthwhile center, a 30,000 square foot center in Palm Beach for 300 children, and have this center self contained,” he explained. “ In this economic environment, obviously things are a little difficult to raise money, but that’s Plan A, and Plan B, and Plan C. We are still aiming at Plan A.”