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 also 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 on Sunday afternoon and was cruising to 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.
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 and holed the putt.