Money title almost secured for Ernie Els
Ernie Els entered the WGC-American Express Championship without a win on the PGA Tour since his back-to-back victories in Hawaii at the Mercedes Championship and Sony Open, the first two events of the season, and was ranked eighth on the PGA Tour Money list with $2,479,480.
But on the European Tour, Els has won four times, the Heineken Classic in January, the Johnnie Walker Classic in February, the Barclays Scottish Open in July and the Omega European Master last month, and was on top of the Volvo Order of Merit with 2,897,535.20 euros going into this week, a lead of 771,939.90 euros over Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.
With his tie for 12th Sunday, Els has all but secured his first-ever Order of Merit by taking home 81,731.11 euros.
"It's probably the fullest season I've played in Europe," Els said. "This is 16 in Europe and 15 in the States, and I still have to play a couple over here."
Els, a truly international player, finished second in Europe last week at the Dunhill Links Championship and felt the after effects of six-hour rounds and jet lag when he came to Atlanta for the American Express. Never breaking par in his first three rounds, Els was 6- over-par coming into the final round, but found some energy and shot a final-round 67.
"I never got into it ... but yesterday I started to feel I had more energy," Els said. "I think with the jet lag and the greens so different you are on edge all the time and only got used to it by Saturday."
Els will not play in any more official events in Europe this year, although he will defend his title next week in the HSBC World Match Play. He plans to play three events in the U.S. and then travel down to South Africa for the Presidents Cup in mid-November.
Clarke was not quite prepared to concede the title and will play in Madrid and Valderrama in a last-ditch attempt to catch Els.
"As it's technically possible, I will probably go to Madrid. I'd be foolish not to," said Clarke. "But Ernie deserves it more I do. He's won more and played better over the season. I've no qualms at all. I've hit the ball well enough to be a lot closer to him than I am, but I couldn't turn that into scores on a consistent basis. It's the same old story."
Clarke needs to claim the first prizes of 233,330 euros available in Madrid and 583,330 euros in the Volvo Masters Andalucia in order to triumph -- and even then it would only be by a small matter of 412 euros.
Els, for his part, knows that he has done things the hard way, earning approximately 80 percent of his winnings from tournaments outside the four Major Championships and the three individual World Golf Championships.
He pointed out: "I paid my dues. I played everywhere on The European Tour and on the U.S. PGA Tour so, yes; it would be nice it happens. There would definitely be a great sense of achievement.
"This is probably the fullest season I've played in Europe and my four wins on The European Tour helped me get into this position. Darren did what he had to do to get back into the race by winning the WGC-NEC Invitational, and I am sure he will go flat out to beat me yet!"
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