Els stays out on his own pace

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The Independent Online
ERNIE ELS lost his touch at the Tryall Golf and Country Club yesterday, but he nevertheless managed to extend his lead in the Johnnie Walker World Championship. With seven-under par rounds in each of the first two days, Els had blazed into a six-s troke lead. Yesterday, when he only managed only to go round in par, the opposition still could not keep to his pace and he went seven ahead.

Nick Price is behind Els on the leader board, having shot a three-under-par 68. Four players were another shot back on 207 - the two Britons, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, and two Americans, Mark McCumber and Paul Azinger, who shot a course record 62.

Azinger and Seve Ballesteros derived mutual inspiration when they were paired together yesterday. Azinger, in particular, made such an impression that even if the first prize of $550,000 is beyond him today, he seems certain to receive a healthy cut of the bounty. "This time last year I was watching this event on television as my hair was falling out," Azinger said, referring to his treatment for cancer. He has made a full recovery and yesterday's round was something of a watershed for him. "My goal wasto get into a position to be nervous," he said. "It proved that I'm capable of doing what I've done before and that's very important to me."

Azinger, who crossed swords and had words with Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup in 1989 and 1991, admitted that the Spaniard, who shot 65, brings the best out of him. "Seve's so competitive he was a big inspiration to me." Azinger had seven birdies and an eagle to stand at six under par for the championship.

Els had given the rest of the field a glimmer of hope early yesterday. At one point his lead had been cut to three but that was the signal for Tom Lehman to take the pressure off him by taking a double-bogey six at the 12th. At the same hole Els had a three and he was set fair again.

Price, the world No 1, made up ground on the South African who threatens to dislodge him at the top of the rankings. In midsummer, Price switched his allegiance from IMG to a company called Masters International, run by the Rhodesian-born John Bredenkamp, recently the subject of a Channel 4 programme which alleged that he supplied arms to Saddam Hussein. Price knows of the allegations but is happy to put his affairs in the hands of Bredenkamp. "He's the best manager I've ever had. As far as I'

m concerned, he's done nothing illegal."

Controversy abounds, from the headline in the Tokyo paper a few days ago that said "Faldo to World Tour: Bugger off", to Colin Montgomerie's decision to switch allegiance from Wilson to Callaway. Wilson has pointed out that Monty was deserting the clubs that made him top money-winner in Europe, but did not mention that Monty is joining a company that has also just recruited one David Watkins, formerly top aide to President Clinton. According to the Wall Street Journal this week, Watkins was forced to leave the White House after using a presidential helicopter for a golf outing.

When Montgomerie set out yesterday morning he was in good spirits. Alert as ever, he spotted a reporter on the fairway and boomed out: "Are all the bars closed then?" Damn cheek. At the time the sun was not even over the yardarm.