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On the Road with Ernie: dunhill championship

In only his second tournament back from knee surgery, Ernie Els closed with a final round 68 to win the European Tour's dunhill championship by three strokes. Ernie tells you all about it in the latest edition of On the Road with Ernie...

What a difference a week makes! The Nedbank was pretty much a disaster; the dunhill was the complete opposite - almost a dream to be honest with you. I mean, to win my second tournament after a five-month layoff feels amazing. I love this golf course and went into the tournament hoping I could have a good week. The way things turned out, well, I couldn't have asked for more. I had my moments at the Nedbank where I was striking the ball okay, but I was just feeling my way back into things really. This week at Leopard Creek was a different story, especially with my putting. I started to strike the ball with a bit more conviction and, more importantly, my feel for distance came back so I felt like I could start holing putts. Inside 10 feet I was much better and, as we all know, they are the scoring putts. During the tournament I didn't want to say too much about winning, because that seems really cocky, especially in the circumstances with this being only my second tournament since the summer. But I knew if I could get the putter working I'd have a chance. I was hitting the ball well enough to win. It's my third victory in this event and you know, winning in your home country is always special, but I think everyone can understand that this one feels the sweetest.

I made a slow start to the tournament. As with the previous week at the Nedbank, I'd played well in the pro am. But I didn't quite carry that into the first round on Thursday. In the end I felt like I did pretty well to get out of there with a one-under par 71. We had a few interruptions for the weather, so I never really got things going. On days like that, it's important to not blow yourself out of the tournament. You need to find a way to get it round in a decent score, which I did. I like to think that's been one of my strengths as a golfer over the years.

After that, I played well. Friday's 67, five-under par, was just a really solid round of golf. Then on Saturday, after a steady front nine, I came home in 32, finishing in style with an eagle-three on the 18th. My second shot in there, over water and played from a hanging lie, was pretty special. Honestly, I could not have hit a better shot, and converting the 10-footer down the hill was a real confidence booster. It guaranteed me a place in the last group out on Sunday, as well. That's where you always want to be, and this week especially I felt like it was important for my chances of winning the tournament.

The Final Round

Once the final round was underway, though, tournament leader Ulrich Van den Berg was doing such a great job I wondered if I was going to get a chance. I mean, I wanted to make a fast start and did exactly that, birdieing the first two holes and actually single-putting the first six greens. Ulrich had an even better start, though, and had extended his lead. He was so relaxed and putting so well that after eight holes I turned to my caddie Simon and said I didn't know how we were going to catch him. But it all changed around the turn. He hit that bad shot on 11 and took triple-bogey there and, you know, I think he lost his confidence after that. He basically opened the door for me.

I guess the thing I was most pleased about was that I hit some really solid shots just when I needed to. That's very satisfying. The 15th and 16th were the best of the bunch, both played over water with almost no margin for error. I couldn't have hit my approach shots any better into those two greens. Having got my nose in front a couple of holes earlier, those two shots just about sealed it for me. I could enjoy it playing the last.

I think at the end of the day it was my experience that helped me pull this one off. I was able to play probably my best golf of the week in that last round; and on the back nine especially I made no mistakes.

I must say I feel for Ulrich, though. He's a good player and a true gentleman. I admire the way he kept his composure; it must have been so tough for him. I'm not sure I could have behaved that way in the same circumstances. He'll feel bad, but I think he'll learn a lot from the experience and hopefully that will help him next time he's in a similar situation. It's a cruel game sometimes, but he'll have to try to take the positives out of this tournament. It's the only way to move forward.

Charl Schwartzel will, I'm sure. He'd have loved to have won this one, but he made a great defence of his title and, being paired with him for three days this week, I was impressed with the way he played and the way he conducted himself. It's funny; only a few years ago he was in my Foundation, now he's out here trying to kick my butt! With Charl and guys like Louis Oosthuizen and many others, the future of South African golf is looking very healthy. It's good to see.

Coming up this week...

So, how's the knee, you might be asking. Well, I've been putting ice on it at the end of every day and taking anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling, which isn't ideal. But as I've said before, my surgeon and my physio tell me there's absolutely no risk of me doing further damage. It's simply a phase that I need to work my way through. Obviously I don't want to overdo it, though. As it stands today, I'll be playing in the South African Open at Fancourt, starting on Thursday. I just need to see how the knee reacts in the next 24 hours to having played two consecutive weeks. If there's any adverse reaction, then I'll have to reconsider my position. But as I said, I'm travelling there today with the intention of teeing it up. We've got a house just a few miles from the golf course and that's where I'll be spending the Christmas and New Year break, so I'm heading in that direction anyway!

As you can imagine, I'm looking forward to teeing it up at Fancourt. The South African Open, the second oldest championship in the world, means a lot to me personally. It's where I got my big break, winning at the age of 22. That really got my career going; it got me into the British Open at Muirfield that year, which was a huge turning point. For that reason I owe a lot to the Sunshine Tour. This year it's almost what you'd call a home game for me. As I said, I've got a house down the road and I've lost count of the number of times I've played here over the years.

And I think it's great for this tournament that it has a place like this in the schedule. It's fair to say a lot of players have been asking for this slot for a while now; I'm glad the Sunshine Tour has taken this decision. It's a good time in the year, the schools are out and lots of the guys are coming home, which means you can play in the Million Dollar (if you're invited) the dunhill and the South African Open. It's perfect.

The quality of golf courses is right up there, too. With the Nedbank at the excellent Gary Player Country Club, then last week we were at the fantastic Leopard Creek, and now this week at The Links at Fancourt which is great as well. I feel very comfortable on all of these courses and that's a good thing to be able to say. If you feel comfortable on a golf course, that's got to be a positive thing. Plus I've got a lot of good memories from playing here, which is another important thing. Knowing a golf course isn't much of an advantage if you don't enjoy it or you don't feel like it suits the way you like to play the game.

Anyway, that's it for now. If the situation changes regarding my knee and whether I play this week, obviously I'll update you.

Otherwise, I'll write again early next week.


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