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Els plays it cool to win playoff in Hawaii

Posted: Monday, January 19, 2004

HONOLULU Ernie Els is getting used to this kind of excitement.

Pushed into a playoff for the second straight year, Els held off an impressive bid by Harrison Frazar with a 30-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole Sunday to win the Sony Open, the first player to successfully defend his title in 17 years.

''A playoff at the Sony it's working out for me,'' Els said.

When the putt disappeared, Els lifted his arms and leaned his head back in relief. The Big Easy made it tough on himself, losing a two-shot lead with five holes to play.

Frazar, winless in 161 starts on the PGA Tour, twice had putts to win an eagle putt on the 18th in regulation, and a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 18 on the first playoff hole. The 32-year-old Texan came through with a 15-foot par putt on No. 10 to send the playoff to the third extra hole.

Els made sure it didn't last any longer.

The last time he was in a playoff was November in the Presidents Cup, head-to-head with Tiger Woods over three dramatic holes until darkness led to a tie.

Els got to finish this one off plus, he got paid.

Els, who has shot in the 60s every round he has played at Waialae Country Club, closed with a 5-under 65. He earned $864,000 for his 13th career PGA Tour victory.

Els is the first repeat winner in the Sony Open since Corey Pavin in 1987. A year ago, Els holed a 55-foot putt from the fringe on the second extra hole to beat Aaron Baddeley.

Frazar shot a 66, closing with two birdies to finish at 18-under 262 and force the playoff.

He twice rallied from two-shot deficits, a strong performance considering their experience Els a three-time major champion with 46 victories worldwide, Frazar in his seventh season on the PGA Tour without a single victory.

The Big Easy appeared to have this wrapped up when he had a two-stroke lead and a 30-foot birdie putt on the 15th, while Frazar overshot the green into thick rough.

That's where it all turned around.

Frazar hit a beautiful chip to save par, and Els' three-putted for bogey. Two holes later, Frazar caught him with a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 17th, and Els had to make a 10-foot birdie on the last to force a playoff.

Davis Love III was briefly tied for the lead at 13 under when he made the turn, but went six holes before his next birdie and fell out of the race. He closed with a 67 to finish third at 15-under 265.

There was one other small piece of drama on the 18th.

Paul Azinger had a 4-foot birdie putt that would put him at 11 under par and knock Vijay Singh, one of his best friends, out of the top 10 for the first time since the PGA Championship in August.

Azinger missed, and Singh (66) wound up with his 10th consecutive top-10 finish.

The Sony Open lost some of its buzz when 14-year-old Michelle Wie went home after a 68 on Friday to miss the cut by one shot. Els and Frazar brought it back to life with a terrific duel.

It was the third time Frazar had the lead going into the final round. He finished fourth in the '98 Colonial, and tied for third last year in the Phoenix Open when Singh shot 63 in the final round.

The lesson from Phoenix was to not ''sit back and watch what somebody else is doing.''

He could have easily fallen into that trap on a cloudy afternoon at Waialae, playing with the defending champion. And while both players opened with five straight pars, Frazar had every reason to get down on himself.

He pulled his drive on No. 6 into a leafy bush, leaving him no choice but to take a penalty drop. Frazar had to pitch out to the fairway, and was lucky to escape with a bogey. He dropped another shot on No. 7 and lost the lead when he hit into a bunker on the par 3 and blasted out well past the hole.

The real blow came on No. 8, when Frazar hit his approach to 6 feet for a chance to regain a share of the lead. But he missed his putt, and Els holed a 15-footer for birdie and a two-shot margin.

But Frazar made it difficult on the Big Easy the rest of the day.

The Texan rattled off four straight birdies, none more important than No. 12. They were tied for the lead when Els hit out of a fairway bunker to about 18 inches behind the cup for a tap-in birdie. Frazar answered by chipping in from just short of the green.

Els appeared to put him away again.

From the shaggy grass behind the 13th green, Els bumped a chip that ran into the cup for a birdie and the lead. He followed that with an approach that landed in front of the hole and caught the ridge edge of the cup, stopping 4 feet away for another birdie and a two-shot lead.

Frazar battled to the end, forcing Els to beat him with a long birdie putt on the 21st hole of the day.



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