Ernie Els returned to the site of one of his two career Champions wins to earn a third, bettering the field by a single stroke Sunday to win the Hoag Classic at Newport Beach, Calif.
The South Africa native shot a final-round 6-under 65, vaulting ahead of 12 golfers with the best scorecard turned in by any player Sunday (tied with American Scott McCarron). He had zero bogeys on the day in finishing 13 under for the tournament.
“It’s been a long run, I’ve played good golf, especially last year,” Els said. “I had, I don’t know how many top-10s I had, but it was many. I had a couple seconds. Getting close and not winning gets a little, you know, and then having a chance now today and missing the short putt (on 15), they were kind of not great feelings coming through me.”
Els, who previously won the Hoag Classic in 2020 along with the SAS Championship that same year, came out scorching, with three birdies among his first four holes. He then finished strong, adding to his birdies on 2, 3 and 4, by pocketing birdies on 7, 16 and 18 to complete the comeback.
The hot start was no accident.
“I saw the weather report this morning and it looked like it was going to get gusty and maybe a little rainy and that’s exactly what happened,” Els said. “So, I felt if I could get off to a decent start and get myself established and take it from there and that’s exactly what happened. I almost played a perfect round.”
The final birdie of the day, in a pressure-filled situation on 18, might have been his most impressive. His bunker shot that set up a 15-foot putt for the win was his shot of the day.
“I think that’s the shot of the tournament for me was that shot,” Els said. “Luckily the greenskeeping’s great, it was a nice, firm lie. I hit the shot out to about 12, 15 feet and made the putt.”
Americans Steve Stricker (4-under 67) and Doug Barron (1-under 70) tied for second one stroke back at 12 under. Stricker, like Els, also managed a birdie on 18, one of four on the day for him in a bogey-free round.
The difference was Els’ start.
“Just never really — just like everybody, never really made a lot of putts,” Stricker said. “Had a lot of opportunities and just kind of ran them over the edges, a lot on the edges. Never really got a lot of momentum, especially on the front nine. That’s kind of where I lost it really. Never really — on Saturday and Sunday, I think I made the turn 1 over on Saturday and only made it 1 under today, so kind of the front nine, I kind of stalled on the front nine a little bit.”
Germany’s Bernhard Langer, who came into the day with a one-shot lead and an opportunity to become the Champions Tour’s sole all-time winner, had a disappointing finish to his tournament with a final-round 73.
Langer remains tied with Hale Irwin with 45 all-time victories.
“Well, it’s disappointing to shoot 73, 2 over,” Langer said. “Obviously Ernie had a great day, so my hat’s off to him, but I had a two-shot lead at one point in the round and would have loved to play a little better the last 14 holes or whatever it was, 12 holes, yep.”
Dicky Pride (67), Rob Labritz (68) and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez (71) tied for fourth at 11 under.
Langer and McCarron finished tied for seventh at 10 under with four other golfers: Padraig Harrington (66), Shane Bertsch (67), Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke (69) and K.J. Choi (69).