Els and Singh on song

World Match Play: Fijian displays extra special touch to set up a final duel with the reigning champion
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The Independent Online
A day-long battle between Tom Lehman and Vijay Singh for the dubious honour of standing between Ernie Els and golfing history stretched into the murky Wentworth dusk last night as their World Match Play semi- final went into a sudden-death conclusion that saw Singh triumph on the first extra hole.

Singh's cause had looked lost when he trailed Open Champion Lehman by one hole as they played the 36th and last. But it ain't over until Vijay sings and the Fijian shattered the American's hopes with two superb birdies. Lehman needed only a half to clinch victory but was put under severe pressure when Singh's booming second shot flew 211 yards to within 12 feet. Lehman three-putted and was thus forced down the 37th.

Another thrillingly accurate second shot put Singh within 10 feet of the pin and he finally dismissed Lehman with an assured birdie putt. Singh's reward is place in today's final which presents Els with the chance of a his third Match Play title in the three years he has competed - a hat- trick never before achieved.

If Els takes any disadvantage into action today it is that he did not have as vigorous a workout yesterday as Singh. But after dispatching the USPGA champion Mark Brooks by an emphatic 10 and 8 margin Els played the last four holes alone and declared that he felt good about his game. He can be further bolstered by the fact that in the eight unbeaten matches he has played in this event over the past three years, he is 59 under par for a total of 272 holes completed. It is a statistic to which yesterday's victim made a generous contribution.

Brooks had gained many new admirers during his heroic victory over Colin Montgomerie on Friday. He putted brilliantly to belabour the Scot with seven birdies in the final 11 holes and the way he finished the job with sweet seven-footers at the last two brought the galleries out early yesterday.

But the American's newly-won friends began to drop off quicker than the leaves were falling from Wentworth's trees - a natural shedding he was able to assist with several tee-shots that clattered brutally among the branches. Had Els been playing with any destructive zeal, the match would have all been over in record time.

Els managed only one birdie in the first nine holes. On the par-five fourth he put his sand-iron approach to within a foot for a four that put him into a lead that never remotely looked like being reduced as Brooks carved out an arboreal route to defeat.

The swing problems he has been fighting manfully to control for the past few weeks gripped him like a boa constrictor. The basic fault was a swing that insisted on tracing an in-to-out path. He has tried to change it in several ways but yesterday he tried one experiment too many and started hitting the ball straight right from the tee - a disastrous habit that began to bite hard on the seventh.

His drive flew right and found trouble via a fir tree. He sought his escape with a seven-iron but the ball carved a nature trail from a fir to a beech and then a silver birch enabling Els to advance his lead to three holes by the ninth. At that stage the pair had taken 36 and 39 shots for a total which was nine strokes higher than that of the other semi- finalists.

Els steadily applied a touch more pressure on the back nine to reach lunch six up. Brooks never lost his engaging manner on the course - he seems to have a cigarette permanently hidden in a cupped hand and he puffs at it with a furtiveness usually seen behind the school toilets - and was looking for a swing cure even during the lunchbreak. "I spent 45 minutes hitting balls on the practice range," he said, "and started the afternoon with the worst shot I'd hit all day."

The two bogeys Brooks suffered at the start of the second 18 put him eight down and in sight of the most humiliating defeat in this 33-year- old tournament's history. He avoided that by securing six straight halves but Els had flicked his gearbox into cruise and applied the fatal blows with birdies on the ninth and 10th.

Brooks departed philosophically. "Embarrassed? If I'd been playing a five-handicapper, maybe. But you could lose 12 and 10 to Ernie Els and not feel humiliated. I dragged his game down today and he still played 28 holes in four under."

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