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Ernie Els wins the 2024 Principal Charity Classic at Wakonda Golf Course

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The fourth time’s the charm.

It took four appearances at the Principal Charity Classic for Ernie Els to claim his first win in Des Moines, while the South African native simultaneously claimed his first PGA Tour Champions victory this season.

“It is very special,” Els said about the victory. “I haven’t won in a while and I’ve had quite a few chances. But it becomes more difficult if you don’t cross the line.”

Els, former world number 1 and four-time major winner, finished at 21 under par 195 and won by two strokes.

The 54-year-old birdied the front nine twice and the back nine three times on Sunday. He grabbed an eagle on lucky number 13, which gave Els the padding needed for victory, even with a par on the last three holes.

“I was lucky to make a birdie on 11,” Els said. “I didn’t need a very good approach, I made a good putt. And then 12, but 13 was big to make an eagle late on the back nine, that was the key. I got a three-shot lead and (I) stuck with it.

The victory at the Wakonda Club marked the first PGA Tour Champions victory of the season for Els, who entered the Principal Charity Classic ranked 16th in the Schwab Cup standings through eight events.

He claimed the winner’s purse of $300,000, bringing his total winnings this season to $785,017. Els had three top-10 finishes this season, including two ties for third in the Regions Tradition and Chubb Classic and a tie for sixth in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.

Els finished two shots ahead of Stephen Ames, the defending champion, and it was a close race all the way. Four players tied for first place after finishing in the top nine: Ames, Rod Pampling, Els and Bernhard Langer.

Only Ames, Els and Langer remained in first place after 12 holes, at 18 under. Then the front group started to split.

Ames picked up two birdies to start the back nine, then made par on 12 and 13, and saved par on 14. Els made par on 10, then picked up back-to-back birdies and an eagle on the next three holes to take a two shot lead. Langer also hit par to start the back nine, then made three straight birdies before bogeying 14.

Els’ eagle on 13 turned out to be the winning shot in Sunday’s competition.

He played his best tournament of the year, leading after the first two rounds and holding on until the final day in Des Moines.

“I had a good game plan,” Els said. “I worked on it for three days. I’ve worked hard on it and you feel a little more confident that every aspect of the game is there.

“Then you can just go out there and compete. It was a hellish week. Everyone played well and maybe only that one hole had something for me. Number 13.”

Els – who thanked the Wakonda staff for the “true championship course” and the weather for their cooperation – plans to return to Des Moines for more tournaments.

“We as players enjoy playing here. As long as I can, I will come back, especially if I keep winning.”

Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.