Golf: Woosnam wilts as Els forges ahead

Johnnie Walker Classic
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The Independent Online
If there is someone other than Tiger Woods that Europe's finest players would rather not chase in a tournament, then that player is the South African, Ernie Els.

But, entering the third round of the Johnnie Walker Classic in Phuket, Thailand, today, it is Els, the defending champion as well as the US Open champion, who leads the way on a 12-under-par 132.

Despite the intense heat, a sparkling 65 - one outside Greg Norman's course record - left him three ahead of the German, Alexander Cejka, and four clear of Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

Lee Westwood is five back following a 66, Nick Faldo one further back after a 67 - and Woods now 11 adrift in joint 22nd place.

The sponsors who are paying him a million dollars to play will have expected a lot better. However, when asked whom he would put his money on to win the pounds 133,330 first prize tomorrow, Woods answered: "Me".

Ian Woosnam, the winner two years ago in Singapore, failed to survive the cut on five over. "I played terrible, but I didn't have high expectations here - not in this heat," he said after shooting 76.

Thomas Bjorn, the Ryder Cup player, also went out after sharing the first- day pace with Els. Bjorn, who had a stomach upset, felt close to collapse while playing the 16th and eventually slumped to an 81. "That's the worst I've ever felt playing golf," he said. "It was hot, yet I felt cold."

For the second day running slow play became a talking point. Two players, the Ulsterman Raymond Burns and the South African Wayne Westner, were docked a shot and fined pounds 500 in the first round and this time Westwood blamed officials for costing him a shot.

The crackdown on slow play in European Tour tournaments was requested by the players, but Westwood - chasing a fourth victory in six starts - said: "I was a bit upset and to be timed was ridiculous. The rules need looking at.

"We were not holding up the group behind and it was stupid. In this heat there's got to be leeway. Everybody's trying to rush us around nowadays, but it's so hot you don't walk as quickly and you don't want players collapsing."

The "hurry up" came on the long 15th and Westwood said he did indeed rush and did not make the birdie he was expecting after finding the fringe of the green in two.

One person unable to hurry was Els's Yorkshire-born caddie Ricky Roberts, who twisted his ankle. "I don't know if he'll be able to work over the weekend," Els said. "Hopefully he'll be OK, because he is so good at his job."

And so is Els. The world No 3 had six birdies in seven holes from the fifth and added another at the 15th for good measure.

Faldo, who has started to hole long-range putts again, had seven birdies, but undid two of them by pulling an eight-iron into the lake at the short 14th and taking five. He came home in 31.

Harrington, playing his first serious golf since November, was also on the birdie trail, sinking six in a round of 67.