Ernie Els storms back to win his second Hoag Classic title
Professional golfer Ernie Els is nicknamed “The Big Easy.”
Winning PGA Tour Champions titles, though, has been anything but easy for the rangy South African.
He came into this weekend’s Hoag Classic with 33 top-10 finishes on the tour, yet just two trophies.
Els continues to find Newport Beach very much to his liking.
He fired a final-round 65 to win the Hoag Classic for the second time, in wet conditions at Newport Beach Country Club.
The last day of winter brought a misty light rain for much of the round. But it didn’t seem to trouble Els, a World Golf Hall of Fame member.
He shot 13-under-par for the tournament, a stroke better than Steve Stricker and Doug Barron at -12. Two of his three Champions Tour wins have come in Newport Beach. He also won the Hoag Classic in 2020, and led heading into the final round last year.
On Sunday, Els, 53, became the fourth two-time winner of the tournament, joining Hale Irwin, Jay Haas and Fred Couples.
“I just love the place,” Els said with a smile after accepting the championship trophy and $300,000 first-place check, and posing for pictures in a Hoag doctor’s jacket as per tradition. “It fits my eye. The grass, the weather, the whole place, just feel at home here. I’ve always played well over here in California, winning at Riviera and so on.
“Yeah, hopefully they keep this tournament going for at least the next six years.”
Barron missed a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18, which would have forced a playoff, wide right. He tied with Stricker, who earned a more-than-solid finish his first time playing the Hoag Classic.
“Challenging little course, you know, because the greens are tough and tough to putt,” Stricker said. “You’ve got a lot of short irons in your hand, but it was hard to get the ball close. But it was fun, it was a great area, fans came out. It was a fun week.”
Dicky Pride, Rob Labritz and Miguel Angel Jimenez finished tied for fourth at -11. Bernhard Langer, the Saturday leader who was trying to earn his PGA Tour Champions record 46th title, carded a final-round 73.
Langer was one of six golfers at -10, tied for seventh.
“The south breeze was a little harder than the westerly breeze for me, made certain holes a lot longer and difficult, and it was cold and wet,” Langer said. “But basically came down to the putter, I didn’t putt well.”
Els, who came into Sunday tied for 14th place, made seven birdies on his round to rally for the title. That included two birdies in the final three holes.
On the par-five No. 18, he found a cross bunker on the left, leading to a difficult third shot. But he got it on the green, then made the birdie putt.
“I think that [third shot] is the shot of the tournament for me,” Els said. “Just really raining a bit and I tried to get the second shot as close as possible to the green ... I had a 63-yard shot, which is not a very nice yardage to have, but luckily the greens-keeping’s great, it was a nice firm lie. That shot, we don’t really practice those shots, we’re kind of going on instinct there.”
Els pumped his fist after the final birdie, taking the outright lead into the clubhouse, though he had to wait for the last group of Barron, Langer and Jimenez to finish.
None could catch Els, a former world No. 1 who won four majors on the PGA Tour.
“Getting close and not winning gets a little [old], you know,” Els said. “Then having a chance today and missing the short putt [on 15], they were kind of not great feelings coming through me. Then I made the putt on 16 and 18, so good to win.
“Finishing the way I did ... I haven’t finished that way for two years, that’s why I haven’t won. Those are the kind of things I used to do when I was winning events when I was in my prime. So I want to get those feelings back, and this was a really great start.”
Like Langer, Newport Beach resident Couples fired a final-round 73. He finished at eight-under, tied for 15th place.
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