By PGA TOUR Staff and Wire Reports
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ernie Els survived a few nervous moments by making two clutch par putts to win the rain-delayed Arnold Palmer Invitational in a Monday finish for his second PGA Tour victory in a row after a two-year drought.
Coming off a four-shot victory in the World Golf Championship at Doral two weeks ago, Els closed with a 1-under 71 at Bay Hill to win for the 18th time in his PGA Tour career and made it consecutive wins for the first time since 2003.
He was relieved upon holing an 8-foot par putt on the final hole, giving him a two-shot victory over Kevin Na and Edoardo Molinari of Italy.
This was Els' second victory at Bay Hill, the other coming 11 years ago in a 36-hole Sunday because of rain.
Els, who finished at 11-under 277, became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 to win twice on the Florida Swing. The 40-year-old South African is to play the Houston Open before going to the Masters, where he will be among the top favorites.
"I think he's going to be tough at Augusta," Palmer said after greeting Els behind the 18th green.
The victory was worth $1.08 million and put Els atop the PGA Tour money list with more than $3 million. He moves to No. 7 in the world.
Retief Goosen (69) and Chris Couch (71) tied for fourth. Ben Curtis, who started the final round one shot out of the lead, closed with a 74 and finished alone in sixth.
Els had a five-shot lead Sunday afternoon and was cruising toward victory when he took double bogey from the water on No. 13 and bogey from the sand on the next hole. Then came the siren to stop play as thunderstorms approached, and rain drenched Bay Hill into the morning.
"The last 20 hours I couldn't stop thinking about trying to finish this thing," Els said.
Els had to make a 6-foot par putt on the 15th to keep his two-shot lead. Na had a two-putt birdie ahead of him on the 16th to get within one shot, and Els had a plugged lie in the face of the bunker on the 17th. On the verge of losing the rest of his big lead, Els blasted out to just over 6 feet and knocked in the par putt to keep the lead.
Na drove into the rough on the 18th, had to lay up and missed an 8-foot par putt for a 3-under 69. He slung his ball into the water, knowing he had made it just a little bit easier for Els.
"There's no chance," Na said when asked if he could have gone for the 18th green. "Even Tiger Woods couldn't have gotten over the water. With the lie as wet as it is, there's absolutely no chance."
Molinari made a 50-foot birdie on the 17th and shot 69 to share second place to earn $528,000.
Els played it safe on the 18th, missing the green well to the left and away from the water, then chipped down to 8 feet.
Ernie Els became the only multiple winner on the PGA TOUR by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was certainly not easy. Els said Sunday afternoon it was going to be a restless night thinking about 13 and 14. After his win he said it was a tough night, but he did what he had to do. In fact early Monday morning he went to Lake Nona and hit balls in the rain preparing for the final four holes. Well deserved victory by Ernie. I asked him if he was going to still have Dan Quinn caddy for him at the Masters, and he confirmed that he was. He has obviously made a plan for the year and he is sticking to it.
The tie for fourth by Chris Couch has him getting closer to regaining his exempt status. The finish gives him a little over $575,000 and another $300,000 should get it done. Well done for Chris, who righted the ship after bogeying 14.