Ernie Els came back to earth in the final round of the Buick Classic, at least by the exceptional standards he set during the tournament's first three days.
But no one else ever got off the ground.Ahead by six shots at the start of Sunday's final round, Els shot an even-par 71 - and won by eight shots. He finished with a four-round total of 271, 13-under-par.
"It's quite surprising," Els said. "I thought the guys would have come after me a little more. . . . It's quite surprising that nobody, really, on the leaderboard went under par."
His victory margin was the largest on tour since Davis Love III won by eight strokes at the 1993 Las Vegas Invitational. It also tied the biggest winning margin at the Buick Classic, set by David Frost in 1992.
The South African native won his third PGA Tour title and first since the 1995 GTE Byron Nelson Classic. He was also the first wire-to-wire winner on the PGA tour since Tim Herron at the Honda Classic in March.
Els said after Saturday's round that the difficulty of the Westchester Country Club course would make it hard for someone to emerge from the pack with a 64 or a 65 to put some pressure on him.
But to shoot par and gain ground on the field?
"Ernie ran away from the tournament," said Craig Parry, one of four golfers who tied for second. "He made us all look like fools out there, really."
The field at Westchester, considered a good tuneup for next week's U.S. Open, was a strong one with Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and several other big names.
"You've got a very, very good field here this week," Parry said. "It's OK to get in front of a mediocre field, but this is a very good field."
No one was closer to Els than five strokes on Sunday, and he admitted that starting at about the 11th or 12th hole he knew the tournament was his. On the 15th hole, a long par-4, he hit a driver over trees to cut through a dogleg. When asked if that was a smart play with a seven-stroke lead, Els said, "with a seven-shot lead you can afford to hit a tree."
Then he thought for a minute and corrected his questioner, "It was actually a 10-shot lead at that point."
Els, who was tied with Tom Watson after one hole of the final round of last week's Memorial Tournament before fading to sixth, said he's eager to play at this week's Open in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He won the Open in 1994.
"I'm happy about my game and I can't wait until next week," he said.
Parry finished tied for second with Steve Elkington, Tom Lehman and Jeff Maggert at 5-under 279. Fred Funk, Frost and Brad Faxon were at 280.
Utahn Mike Reid finished 11 strokes back at 282 after shooting a 72. He won $25,440.
The race Sunday was strictly for second place.
Els led Herron by six shots when play began Sunday, but immediately stretched the margin to eight by making birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 while Herron, his playing partner, made pars.
Herron, who finished with a 75, did get the margin back to five as Els three-putted No. 5 for a par and No. 6 for a bogey and missed a short par putt on No. 8.
But Els regained his touch by two-putting for birdie on the par-5 9th. He also birdied Nos. 11 and 13 while the rest of the field struggled to make par on the Westchester Country Club's tough back nine.
Els at one point had a 10-shot lead, but he missed short par putts on Nos. 16 and 17.
Els continued his remarkable success on the 6,779-yard Westchester Country Club course. He has finished first, fourth and second in his three previous appearances here and, counting the $216,000 he won Sunday, he has collected $392,850 in prize money.
The victory also put Els within $15,357 of having earned $2 million in the United States.
Els led by a stroke after the first round and five shots after the second round.