Golf: Price injury leaves rival captain unemployed

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Zimbabwe's challenge at the Alfred Dunhill Cup has been handicapped by Nick Price's withdrawal through injury, just as the complexities of the format became apparent. Andy Farrell reports from St Andrews.

The obvious difference between this competition and the World Cup is that one features three-man teams and the other two-man sides. Not for Zimbabwe. The No 2 seeds were downsized from a trio to a duo when the injured Nick Price quit after 12 holes yesterday.

Price, who started to feel the mystery injury after losing to Ernie Els in the semi-finals of the World Match Play a week ago, was level with Miguel Angel Jimenez when he retired. His team-mates, Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty, both won, however, to give Zimbabwe a 2-1 victory over Spain.

Neither can afford to drop another point. Today in their last qualifying match, Zimbabwe face New Zealand, who beat South Korea 3-0, with the winners topping Group Four and reaching Sunday's semi-finals.

"They say `beware of the injured golfer'. They might as well give us the trophy now," Johnstone, Zimbabwe's captain, said. "Nick is not one to complain about pain so it must be extremely sore. We are just grateful he made the effort and won an important match when I lost yesterday. It is about time Mark and I carried him. He has been carrying us all these years."

Price, who aggravated the pulled oblique muscle in his left side when he lost to Brad Faxon in third-fourth play-off at Wentworth on Sunday, is the first player in the 13 editions of the event who has had to retire. Inevitably with this competition, there is no easy answer as no replacement is on hand. Thanks to their seeding, Zimbabwe get first pick of a pairing in every match unless they meet America in the final, and they can use the device to take out the opposition's best player.

"You know who won't be playing tomorrow," McNulty said. Frank Nobilo, the New Zealand captain, will have to sit out while Michael Long and Steve Alker seek one point between them. One contest that will be happening is that which pits Els against Colin Montgomerie.

Scotland and South Africa both won for the second time so their match will decide Group Three. David Frost, the Springboks' captain, confirmed the policy of playing Els against their opponent's No 1. This was news to Monty. "Delightful. Great. We'll see what happens," he said.

Apart from at two US Opens, the second of which was only last June at Congressional, Els also defeated the Scot during the 1994 World Match Play Championship, although Montgomerie won a play-off against the South African at last year's Million Dollar Challenge. "I've got a couple on Colin," Els said. "He seems to be in a good mood this week. I will have to play well."

England's situation is not so clear after Lee Westwood took a double- bogey six at the 17th. He went from one ahead to one behind Angel Cabrera, which led to Argentina beating England for the third time in three attempts. The English now have to beat the top-seeded Americans 3-0 to be sure of going through. A 2-1 win might be good enough unless Argentina defeat Japan 3-0. Then the rules get complicated and the slide rule, and aggregate scores, apply. "Unless they are wearing red trousers and then Japan go through," Mark James said.

On a gusty day, the higher mathematics of the format were of no concern to the English captain. "It pales into insignificance compared to trying to play this course in this weather."