"That's as good as I probably could have played in the final round," Els said. "So it was very satisfying."
David Walberg/SI
Monday, March 03, 2008

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.(AP) — Mark Calcavecchia watched in disbelief. His playing partner, Luke Donald, was stunned.

And a few holes ahead, Ernie Els didn't know that a final-round break was finally going his way.

Ending nearly a four-year drought between PGA Tour victories, Els shot a 3-under 67 Sunday to win The Honda Classic. He finished at 6 under, one shot better than Donald (71) and two ahead of Nathan Green (67).

Els got the huge shot of confidence that he's sought for so long, along with his first PGA Tour win in 47 starts since the 2004 American Express Championship in Ireland. Plus, he'll jump a spot to third in the world rankings, passing Steve Stricker.

``To win over here, it's been really my goal,'' Els said. ``So it's a great feeling.''

One errant shot, and Calcavecchia couldn't say the same.

He and Els were tied for the lead as the sun began setting on PGA National. But Calcavecchia hit into a greenside bunker at the par-3 15th, and his shot from the sand looked fine when it hit the green.

Somehow, it never stopped rolling.

``I certainly never dreamed it would run into the water,'' Calcavecchia said.

It didn't run into the water. He threw it there. The ball came to rest on a rock ledge across the green, and when Calcavecchia walked over to survey the damage, he picked it up from the unplayable spot and gave it a frustrated toss.

``It looked like he played it like he wanted to,'' Donald said.

A double bogey went on the card, Els had the outright lead, and he took advantage. He made a cool par on the par-5 finishing hole, then waited to see if anyone would match his score. Donald made a 35-foot birdie at the 16th to get within one, but got no closer, although his birdie chip on the last hole stopped just shy of the cup.

With that, Els stopping hitting balls and slipped on his watch, basking in a winning feeling again.

``That's as good as I probably could have played in the final round,'' Els said. ``So it was very satisfying.''

Els got $990,000 for his 16th career PGA Tour victory.

``You know, this has been a really wonderful week,'' Els said.

Els wasted a four-shot, final-round lead in a European tour event in Dubai earlier this year, when Tiger Woods roared past him for a victory. Els made a colossal mistake on the 18th that day, splashing his approach into the water after trying to pull off a spectacular finish.

At Hilton Head last year, he was denied when Boo Weekley chipped in twice in the final holes. And last year in his native South Africa, Els made a triple-bogey 8 on the finishing hole to blow what seemed like another cinch victory.

But this time, a smooth, steady finish - a Big Easy finish, if you will - got it done.

``I think he's one of the best golfers I've ever played with,'' Donald said. ``It's surprising that he hasn't won for so many years on this tour. You know, maybe this win will open up the floodgates a little bit.''

Calcavecchia (73), Robert Allenby (70) and Matt Jones (73) tied for fourth, three shots back. Brian Davis, who was at 10 under earlier in the week and led at the midway mark, shot his second straight 73 and finished in a five-way tie for seventh, four shots off the winning score.

There were 14 changes atop the leaderboard Sunday, and the winning score couldn't have been much of a surprise; Mark Wilson won a four-man playoff at PGA National last year after finishing four rounds at 5 under, and this year's Honda provided a similar cluster.

Even after a quadruple bogey Friday, Donald wound up as the last contender standing.

``I take absolute positives from this week,'' said Donald, who won the 2006 Honda and also has a third this year at the Northern Trust Open. ``It's not a disappointing week by any means. You never like to finish second, especially when you have a chance to win, but these are definitely positive steps in the right direction.''

Jones, the Australian rookie, got his fifth top-30 in six starts this year and the $227,333 check from the Honda vaulted him to 38th on the money list.

``I can take from the week that I can compete with guys out here, which is good,'' Jones said.

Oddly enough, Els left the Honda thinking the same thing.

Notes: Els' last win on U.S. soil was the Memorial in June 2004. ... Weekley, who missed a 3-footer on the final hole of regulation play last year to cost himself the Honda title, shot an 80 Sunday and finished 12 over. He did, however, finish with a putt from nearly the same spot where he missed last year, and thrust his arms in the air in mock celebration. ... South Korea's Y.E. Yang, best known for beating Woods to win the 2006 HSBC Championship, played his final round in 1 hour, 53 minutes and shot 71.

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