NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP)Ernie Els won the Hoag Classic on Sunday for his first PGA Tour Champions title, birdieing the par-5 15th and 18th holes for a two-stroke victory at Newport Beach Country Club.
Making his third senior start, the 50-year-old Hall of Famer from South Africa closed with a 4-under 67 to finish at 16-under 197. He opened with a 66 and shot 64 on Saturday.
”It was pretty tight,” Els said. ”I felt a little uncomfortable on the greens. I didn’t have that free-flowing feeling, I had to work hard for it and that’s a good thing to do, to work hard for something. You don’t want something falling in your lap. I’m glad the first one’s over with and we can move on now and it gets more comfortable after this.”
Els lost a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez in his debut in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, then tied for 34th last week in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona.
”After being in a playoff in Hawaii, coming close to winning there, I didn’t want to mess this one up,” Els said. ”I had a great opportunity and I wanted to try and take that.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Fred Couples, trying to win the event from the third time at age 60, finished with a 66 to tie for second with Glen Day and Robert Karlsson.
Couples, also part of the playoff in Hawaii, parred the final six holes, chunking a chip on 18 to squander a good birdie try.
”I butchered the two par 5s coming in,” Couples said. ”Other than that, I had a really, really good round.”
Day birdied Nos. 14-17 to take the lead at 15 under, then bogeyed the 18th for a 64.
Karlsson bogeyed the 16th and parred the last two in a 66.
”I was listening to the crowd and obviously Freddie’s obviously a hometown man,” Els said. ”There wasn’t any big roar, so I knew he didn’t make birdie. So I saw Robert Karlsson hit it over the green and he didn’t make birdie. So then I just had to survive. So I hit a really good second, it just went left. I was very pleased after hitting.”
Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Scott McCarron was fifth at 13 under after a 69.
Monday qualifier David Morland IV had a 71 to tie for seventh at 11 under. He opened with a 61.