Hamilton didn't view the playoff as David versus Goliath. "Ernie is one of the great players in the game, but I've had enough success that I knew if I played my best, I could beat him," Hamilton said. The playoff was on 1, 2, 17 and 18. They both made pars on the first two holes. On 17, a long crosswind par-3, Els blinked first. He played his tee shot with the rumble of a passing jet in his ears and hit a soaring shot that started left of the green and stayed there. He made bogey to Hamilton's par. Then on 18, Els did what Els does, and Hamilton did what Hamilton does. Els hit two magnificent iron shots but did not hole his 12-footer for birdie. Hamilton hit two weak fades with irons, then played an extraordinary chip shot, putting it with a hybrid long iron-fairway wood from 30 yards off the green. The shot finished two feet from the hole. The 720,000 quid—and one-year possession of the claret jug—were his.
Hamilton was not jubilant or teary in victory. He wasn't anything except appropriate. He praised Stuart Wilson, the Scotsman who finished as low amateur, and Els and the people who maintain the golf course and run the championship and, "last but not least," the spectators. He sounded as if he knew what he was doing, and he did. For several hours he gave interviews and signed autographs in the clubhouse bar and chatted with men in blue blazers and a boy with Down syndrome and the shoeshine guys in the locker room. He knew exactly what had happened. The world's oldest and grandest golf tournament was played on a course suited to him, he played his game, and nobody played I better. For that he took home the professional's ultimate prize: a big, fat pile of money. Nothing wrong with that.