The pressure to win made Ernie Els feel like he was in a major. Given all he has been through this year, his victory yesterday sure felt like one.
Emotionally spent from a Grand Slam season of heartache, Els reasserted himself as a major force by outlasting Thomas Bjorn in a brilliantly played duel in the cold rain at Mount Juliet in Thomastown, Ireland. He closed with a 3-under-par 69 for a one-shot victory and his first World Golf Championship.
"Everybody knows what I've been through this summer," Els said. "I had a lot of pressure on me, and I think I showed that I didn't want to lose."
The Big Easy had every reason to feel sorry for himself.
He lost the Masters when Phil Mickelson birdied the last hole. He played in the final group of the U.S. Open and shot 80. He lost the British Open in a four-hole playoff against unheralded Todd Hamilton. And a bogey on the final hole knocked him out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.
"I wanted to forget about the majors, the near misses," Els said. "I needed to get that out of my system and start over. Otherwise, I'm going to get left behind. I don't want to do that. I want to win tournaments, and the only way you can do it is to move forward."
Els took one small leap with his fourth victory of the year.
He moved past Tiger Woods to No. 2 in the world rankings, and the 34-year-old South African now has another chance to reach the top spot by the end of the year.
Els and world No. 1 Vijay Singh, who did not play this week because of the last hurricane in Florida, are scheduled to play the next two tournaments in Europe.
"The game is on," Els said.
Woods now is without a stroke-play title in a season for the first time since he won the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, the fifth tournament of his career. He overcame a back injury that improved as the week went on, but he couldn't keep pace with the leaders on the weekend and closed with a 70 to finish eight shots behind.
* PGA TOUR: Fred Funk birdied the final hole to finish off a final-round 6-under 66 and win the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Madison, Miss., by a stroke, his first PGA Tour victory in six years.
The 48-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup player and former University of Maryland coach tied a course record at Annandale Golf Club with a 22-under 266 to win for the first time since he won here in 1998.
After he left his 75-foot eagle putt short on 18, he sank a four-foot putt to win it, then pumped his fist and screamed "Yes!" as the gallery cheered.
* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Wayne Levi claimed his second career tour victory with a 4-under-par 68 to win the Constellation Energy Classic by two strokes at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley, Md.