Thomastown, Ireland — Emotionally spent from a Grand Slam season of heartache, Ernie Els reasserted himself as a major force Sunday by outlasting Thomas Bjorn in a brilliantly played duel in the cold rain at Mount Juliet.
He closed with a 3-under 69 for a one-shot victory at the American Express championship and his first World Golf Championship.
"Everybody knows what I've been through this summer," Els said. "I had a lot of pressure on me, and I think I showed that I didn't want to lose."
Els lost the Masters when Phil Mickelson birdied the last hole. He played in the final group of the U.S. Open and shot 80. He lost the British Open in a four-hole playoff against unheralded Todd Hamilton. And a bogey on the final hole knocked him out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.
"I wanted to forget about the majors, the near misses," Els said. "I needed to get that out of my system and start over. Otherwise, I'm going to get left behind."
Els moved past Tiger Woods to No. 2 in the world ranking, and the 34-year-old South African now has yet another chance to reach No. 1 by the end of the year.
Els and Vijay Singh, who did not play this week because of the latest hurricane in Florida, are scheduled to play the next two tournaments in Europe.
"The game is on," Els said.
The game at Mount Juliet was on from the opening hole and never let up until Bjorn failed to make a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole. That allowed Els to two-putt for bogey from 15 feet to finish at 18-under 270. Els won $1.2 million.