Australian puts Els on back foot

US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Elkington makes a late charge as South African stutters in his bid for glory
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The Independent Online
The US PGA, short of placing the flagsticks on the San Andreas Fault, has been defenceless to prevent its championship being routed. Particularly by Ernie Els, who was poised yesterday to create new scoring records in a major championship until he forgot where the fairway was. Els was vulnerable off the tee and that allowed Steve Elkington to move into contention.

Els had already shattered the 54-hole record for a major. That had been held by Nick Faldo who, at a becalmed St Andrews in 1990, set a three- round total of 199. Els was 16 under after three rounds here, with an aggregate of 197 following scores of 66, 65 and 66.

Yesterday, Els began with a three-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Jeff Maggert, and two strokes further back was Colin Montgomerie. Elkington was six off the pace, but he blazed through the field. Montgomerie, defeated by Els in a play-off for the US Open in Pittsburgh last year and again in the final of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, does not seem to be able to emerge from the 6ft 3in shadow of the South African, although yesterday he made Els aware of his presence.

In terms of driving accuracy and hitting greens in regulation, Big Monty has been unsurpassed. In three rounds he hardly missed a fairway or a green and, in theory, he had so many birdie chances he could have been 30 or 40 under par. "I have never played so well in all my life," Montgomerie said. The Scot is regarded as an excellent putter, but the player with the best touch on the greens at the Riviera this week has been Els. Monty birdied the first two holes yesterday to get to 13 under, three off the lead.

Els also had a birdie at the first to maintain his dominance of the par fives, although he was fortunate. He missed the green with his approach and got a free drop from a terrible lie because a sprinkler head was on the line of his path to the green.

There are three par fives at Riviera, and prior to the last round Els was 11 under on those holes alone. However, he dropped a shot at the short fourth and was looking over his shoulder - not at Maggert and O'Meara, but at Montgomerie and Elkington.

When Els dropped another stroke at the sixth and Elkington birdied the eighth, the Australian was within one stroke of the lead. Els went to the turn in 36, Elkington in 31, and the lead changed hands at the 11th. With birdies at the 10th, 11th and 12th, Elkington moved to 17 under. Els suddenly found himself two strokes behind, but a birdie at the 12th, where he holed from 30 feet, kept him in touch.

In the third round on Saturday, Els had a few strokes of luck. He holed out from a bunker at the fourth hole and chipped in for an eagle three at the 11th, a hole which represented a three-stroke swing in his favour over his playing partner, O'Meara, but yesterday he was not so fortunate.

Els and Faldo both made a sea change this year, leaving the European Tour for the United States. The experiment, which will be renewed next year, has not been a conspicuous success in Faldo's case. The winner of five majors, he was joint 24th in the Masters, joint 45th in the US Open and joint 40th in the Open at St Andrews. He was also an also-ran here.

Yesterday, he had three birdies over the front nine and finished with a 67. In a desperate attempt to improve his putting, he resorted to the cack-handed grip, but in the last two rounds here has reverted to the orthodox posture of right hand below left. "I might as well miss them looking good instead of looking funny," he said.

Faldo is expected to receive one of the two wild cards at the disposal of Bernard Gallacher, Europe's Ryder Cup captain. There are four or five contenders for the remaining place for the match against the United States in Rochester, New York next month.

The US team will be finalised this morning, when Lanny Wadkins announces his two selections to complete the team of 12. Fred Couples and Lee Janzen are favoured to get Wadkins's vote, which means that the US will play without John Daly, the Open champion. Daly, triumphant at St Andrews last month, missed the half-way cut here and nobody expects Wadkins to give him the nod.

Maggert and O'Meara could play their way into the team, while Brad Faxon is another contender. Faxon made a spectacular start to the fourth round here. Resuming at five under par for the championship, he had an eagle three at the first hole and went to the turn in 28.

That equalled the previous lowest record for the front nine of a major, set by Denis Durnian in the Open in 1983. The Irishman Philip Walton, playing in his first event in America, had a 68 yesterday to finish at four under for the tournament.

EARLY FINAL PGA SCORES

US unless stated

271

B Faxon 70 67 71 63

274

S Lowery 69 68 68 69

275

P Stewart 69 70 69 67

K Triplett 71 69 68 67

J Furyk 68 70 69 68

276

C Strange 72 68 68 68

M Campbell (NZ) 71 65 71 69

C Rocca (It) 70 69 68 69

277

J Parnevik (Swe) 69 69 70 69

G Norman (Aus) 66 69 70 72

278

B Mayfair 68 68 72 70

L Janzen 66 70 72 70

S Stricker 75 64 69 70

B Lietzke 73 68 67 70

N Henke 68 73 67

P Jacobsen 69 67 71 71

S Torrance (GB) 69 69 69 71

279

N Faldo (GB) 69 73 70 67

P Azinger 70 70 72 67

F Couples 70 69 74 66

G Morgan 66 73 74 66

D A Weibring 74 68 69 68

J M Olazabal (Sp) 72 66 70 71

N Ozaki (Japan) 71 70 65 73

280

P Walton (Irl) 71 70 71 68

N Price (Zimb) 71 71 70 68

L Clements 67 71 72 70

S Lyle (GB) 67 73 69 71

281

C Beck 66 74 73 68

B Crenshaw 68 73 73 67

P Senior (Aus) 68 71 74 68

G Sauers 69 71 68 73

282

J Adams 65 76 71 70

K Perry 75 67 70 70

R Freeman 71 69 70 72

B Claar 68 67 73 74

283

H Irwin 71 68 71 73

T Kite 70 69 70 74

S Simpson 71 67 71 74

284

E Dougherty 68 72 74 70

T Watson 71 71 72 70

S Pate 71 71 71 71

P-U Johansson (Swe) 72 69 71 72

L Roberts 74 68 71 71

285

B Lane (GB) 74 68 75 68

M Sullivan 72 69 71 73

L Wadkins 73 69 71 72

286

D Pruitt 73 69 72 72.

287

D Frost (SA) 69 73 72 73

J Nicklaus 69 71 71 76

288

F Zoeller 72 69 75 72

289

B Kamm 71 66 74 78

291

C Byrum 71 71 78 71

W Defrancesco 69 73 74 75

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