Els heads for another pot of gold

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The Independent Online
GOLF TIM GLOVER reports from Montego Bay

The opening ceremony to the fourth Johnnie Walker World Championship was a cracker. The players, with the exception of Mark McCumber, stood dutifully to attention by the 18th green, a children's choir sang the Jamaican national anthem and the participants were adorned with bead necklaces and a sawn-off pineapple full of fruit punch and one of those tiny umbrellas.

While the dew was still fresh on the ground the temperature was in the eighties and what people were in need of beneath a cloudless turquoise-blue sky were larger pineapples and larger umbrellas. A breeze coming in from the equally turquoise Caribbean made conditions more than tolerable.

Beryl Mason, however, had a bee in her bonnet. The wife of Carl Mason, the journeyman professional from Goring and Streatley, was sitting in her villa in Montego Bay on the eve of the tournament when a man from IMG, the company that organises the event, appeared on television. He said it was a wonderful event and it had most of the world's leading players and in addition it had a few others.

Beryl looked at Carl and Carl looked at Beryl. They took it to mean that Carl was one of the others. The Masons had received a bouquet of flowers in their room from the same IMG employee, Peter German, the chairman of the championship committee. "I was going to thank him," Beryl said. "Now I think I'll punch him on the nose. He didn't have to say that."

There are only 24 players in this $2.5m tournament and 10 of them did not qualify as of right because they did not win nominated tournaments. Mason did. He won the Bell's Scottish Open and earned his ticket to Jamaica.

Nick Faldo got in via the Sony world rankings, which is run by IMG, and others, including Colin Montgomerie and Jeff Maggert were invited by the International Advisory Committee.

The fact that Montgomerie and Maggert are IMG clients and the IAC is dominated by IMG is neither here nor there.

Maggert, who has not won an event this year, was a last-minute selection and he made the most of his good fortune by rising to the bait of a first prize of $550,000 (£366,000). Maggert appeared on the leaderboard with a first round of 68 yesterday, thre e under par, one stroke behind McCumber, Faldo and Montgomerie and four behind Ernie Els.

"I'm tickled to death to be here," Maggert said. He three putted on two greens, but an eagle three at the 17th got him home in 33.

McCumber did his best work on the front nine, taking 32 strokes with three birdies and no bogeys. As for the opening ceremony he explained that while the rest were receiving beads (of the worry variety for some) he was relaxing in a hot tub.

Faldo, who rescued a mediocre year by winning a million dollars in Sun City two weeks ago, is clearly in form and yesterday he had four birdies in a round of 67. He outplayed his partner, the Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who could barely find a fairway going to the turn, but still managed to scramble impressively from behind coconut and palm trees.

Ballesteros hit his drive out of bounds at the long fourth hole and with a second ball secured his par by chipping in from 60 feet. Faldo, who was pin high with his second shot, also took five there.

Els, the US Open champion who has made a fortune this year, had a birdie at the ninth and the 10th, a double-bogey six at the 11th and followed that with four birdies in a row to take sole occupancy at the top of the leaderboard.

The young South African, who, like Faldo, will join the US Tour next year, finished with a flourish with two more birdies at the 17th and 18th. Els went out in 33 and came back in 31 to stand at seven under par.

Johnnie Walker World Championship (Montego Bay, Jam): First-round scores: 64 E Els (SA). 67 M McCumber (US), N Faldo (GB), C Montgomerie. 68 J Maggert (US) L Roberts (US). 69 R Allenby (Aus), T Lehman (US). 70 D Frost (SA), C Mason (GB), L Mize (US), B Langer (Ger), I Woosnam (GB). 71 N Price (Zim), P Azinger (US), T Kite (US), D Gilford (GB). 72 C Parry (Aus), B Faxon (US). 73 F Zoeller (US), J Huston (US), S Ballesteros (Sp), F Couples (US). 75 V Singh (Fiji).

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