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Ernie Els smiles at rollercoaster day

Ernie Els shook his head and smiled ruefully after throwing away an eight-shot lead in the first nine holes before coming back to win a third successive Heineken Classic on Sunday.

The three-times major winner bounced back from an outward nine of six-over-par 42 with four birdies in the next five holes to edge out Australian Adam Scott by a shot.

"It was just all going wrong. It was one bad break after another. It was laughable at nine," South Africa's Els told a news conference.

"How I got it back, I'll probably know later, when I think about i.

"To play like that and score 42 on a front nine with everything going against you, and somehow turning it back and hitting some good shots, it was an amazing day really.

"I went through all the highs and lows. I thought I went through it at Muirfield, but this was something else," the 34-year-old added.

Els survived a rollercoaster final round in the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, carding a double-bogey at the par-three 16th hole before winning his third major title a four-man playoff.

The world number three had been in imperious form at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club earlier this week, firing scores of 60, 66 and 68 to move eight clear of the field.

However he stumbled to a two-over 74 on the final day, finishing at 20-under 268.

Scott, who had edged to within a stroke of the lead when he made a 35-foot birdie putt at the par-four 17th, fired a closing 67 in the tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Australasian Tours.

"It was almost easier in some ways having a fair battle on the back nine with Adam," Els said.

"I had to adjust on the back nine to the emotions going through me and the way the tournament was going. I think I crossed another hurdle today.

"When the chips were down I came back and...I held my nerve there at the end.

"When I look back on it in another day or two, I'll probably feel good about it. Right now, I'm just happy it's over."

Els paid tribute to the mature game displayed by the 23-year-old Scott on the last day.

"He has a great temperament and a great swing. He has a big future," he said.

Scott was left to rue his missed birdie putt from 20 feet at the last.

"It was an exciting finish, but I think it all just came down to my last putt," the Queenslander said.

"It was a simple enough putt. It was all fine, I just didn't hit it hard enough."

Scott was surprised to find himself in a tie for the lead after nine holes, but added he was in awe of the way Els came back to clinch the $273,000 first prize with a cool 32 on the back nine.

"He was not hitting shots on the front nine and then he turned it right around and just played beautifully coming in," the young Australian said.

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