Big Easy Shows Grit At Bay Hill


Clutch play down the stretch helps Ernie Els secure second victory at 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard

Ernie Els will readily tell you that his two-stroke victory in the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard was among the most satisfying wins of his career. It also happened to be one of the most difficult.

Els, 40, won for the second time at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida, registering a two-stroke victory over Edoardo Molinari and Kevin Na thanks to a closing 1-under-par 71 and 11-under 277 total. But what at one point looked to be a cakewalk ended up being a true test of nerves and talent for the big South African native.

2010 Champion Ernie Els

A late afternoon thunderstorm interrupted the final round, and it struck just after Els let a five-shot lead slip to just two with a double bogey and bogey at 13 and 14, respectively. He had four holes remaining in the first Monday finish at Bay Hill since 1982.

"I let the guys in by a very silly mistake," said Els, who admitted sleeping poorly Sunday night. "It was a great test for the mind the last 24 hours. I wasn't the Big Easy last night. That was one of the toughest evenings I've ever had."

He sewed up his second victory in a row - having won the CA Championship the week prior - with a series of clutch par saves. Els converted 6-footers for par at 15 and 17 and closed out the tournament with an 8-foot par putt at the famed par-4 home hole.

"It was a very special win," said Els, who had won the 1998 title at Bay Hill, but had missed the tournament in 2008-09. "To do that on this TOUR now and after 40 was really special. I didn't have much game before Doral, worked my tail off just to get some game, and found my game, found my putting game and just had a great week at Doral. And then was in such a great spirit that to get to Bay Hill and it just continued. I really had it going, and I needed it there at the end."

When Els won in 1998, by four shots over Bob Estes and Jeff Maggert, that tournament also was plagued by rain and forced a 36-hole final day. The victory helped elevate him to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. " I enjoyed that one a lot better. That wasn't as much hard work like I gave myself last year."

Of course, winning on the PGA TOUR takes a lot more work these days. Els, who plans to play fewer events in Europe this year, said that winning gets more difficult ever year.

"When you're younger it's almost like there's kind of a different mindset a little bit," he said. "I've got 18 wins in the U.S., and I've been on TOUR for about 18 years. But it is pretty difficult, especially now when there's a new group of guys that's come through. With equipment changes for the better players the margin is not that big as it used to be; the guys are a lot closer to each other. There's a bigger group of players playing at a high level. So to separate yourself from the pack, you've got to do something really, really special. You've got to have a little bit of luck on your side, and you've really got to be on that particular week."

The question now is, does he have the goods to successfully defend his title? Only two players have done it. Loren Roberts won back-to-back in 1994-95, while Tiger Woods won four in a row from 2000-03 and pulled off consecutive wins in 2008-09. (Woods missed the 2010 event.)

"I hope to come in with some confidence, (after) really grinding that one out last year," said Els, who was a repeat winner at the Buick Classic in 1996-97 and at the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2003-04. "I am definitely looking forward to going back to Bay Hill and maybe having some of those same feelings of playing well. Bay Hill is a tough golf course, so you have to be on top of your game."