Golf: Angel shows Els no mercy in sudden death: US Open champion and world No 1 both slip to defeat in Alfred Dunhill Cup while Clarke edges out Couples to take Ireland past America

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THERE were several heroic performances in the Alfred Dunhill Cup here yesterday - notably Ireland's victory over the United States, which might have had them dancing in the streets of Boston as well as Ballybunion - but there was nothing to match the indomitable expression of Angel Franco. The Paraguayan, who is 36 but looks about 20 years older, came up with one of golf's definitive displays.

Paraguay, beaten by Scotland on Thursday, were up against South Africa, one of the favourites, and in the first two matches Wayne Westner duly defeated Raul Fretes and David Frost beat Carlos Franco. Angel, one of five brothers of whom Carlos is one, therefore had nothing to play for but pride. He was up against Ernie Els, the US Open champion, and the young South African had Angel pinned to the floor. Or so he thought.

Els was four strokes ahead with six holes to play. 'I know that Ernie is a great player but on the course we are all equals,' Angel, who has been out of action for six months with a bad back, said. 'Nobody is less than any other.' They should inscribe this on the walls of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse. Angel, apparently, has never heard of a lost cause even though his country's cause was lost. He came home in 34 to Els's 37 and they were all square with 72 apiece, level par.

They went to sudden death, except there was nothing sudden about it. Els birdied the first extra hole and so did Angel. Els birdied the fifth extra hole and so did Angel. At the sixth hole, the 24th they had played, Els drove into a bunker. He had a bogey five, Angel a four. One up to the Foinavons of this world. 'I should have had him,' Els said. 'I couldn't finish him off.' It was Ernie who had a dirty face, not Angel.

This was not a fluke result. Angel, who beat John Daly over the Old Course 12 months ago, said: 'I was determined not to lose. I'm happy to be in Scotland and to beat Ernie Els, but I'm sad that my team-mates lost.' Last year, there were 15 professionals in Paraguay. This year there are 21. 'The game is continuing to develop,' Angel, whose brief cv includes a victory in the Rosario Jockey Club event in Argentina, said. Frost, speaking on behalf of the South Africans, said: 'It was one of those situations that if you win it's no big deal and if you lose it's the end of the world.'

In terms of comebacks there was an almost equally angelic performance from Philip Walton. The Irishman had a sleepless night following a nightmarish finale to his match against New Zealand's Grant Waite on the first day. Walton was two strokes ahead with two holes to play and finished 6, 5 to lose with an 81 to an 80. That was when the wind gusted up to 50mph and en masse the teams were 276 over par.

Yesterday, conditions were so much kinder that, on aggregate, the teams were 279 strokes better off. Walton shot 72 to beat Tom Kite by four strokes to put Ireland level after Curtis Strange had the better of Paul McGinley. In the decider, Darren Clarke beat Fred Couples with a 71 to a 74, gaining inspiration at the seventh. Couples put his approach to six feet and Clarke was 50 yards away. The Irishman pitched to 18 feet and holed for a birdie and Couples missed. 'I putted horribly,' Couples, the sole survivor from the American trio who won the cup last year, said.

It sounded like an echo. Strange, who holds the Old Course record with a 62, said: 'I putted horribly.' Thank goodness Kite came up with something different. 'I just hit a lot of lousy shots,' Kite lamented. The result left Group One up for grabs. All four teams have a victory each and today, in the final stage of the round robin format which will decide the semi-finalists for tomorrow from the winners of the four groups, Ireland play Japan and the United States play New Zealand.

Group Four is also wide open thanks to Canada's 2-1 triumph over Zimbabwe. In the final match, Dave Barr holed from 10 feet for a birdie three at the 18th to beat Nick Price, the world No 1, with a 68 to a 69. It was all over bar the shouting. Today Canada play Germany and, in the final rubber, Barr will meet Bernhard Langer.

In the other two groups, the issue is more clear cut. England, who completed another whitewash yesterday by beating France 3-0, have to beat Australia. The same goes for Scotland against South Africa. Gordon Brand Jnr, Andrew Coltart and Colin Montgomerie all scored 70 to comfortably dispose of the Republic of China 3-0. Although Scotland were collectively six under par, Australia, in beating Spain (minus Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal) 2-1, were 10 under.

England are the only country not to lose a match, although Howard Clark had to go to a second extra hole to beat Michel Besanceney. 'We're not missing Nick Faldo,' Mark Roe, who today will play Greg Norman, said. As for little Paraguay, they play the Republic of China in a match which ostensibly has no bearing. But then Angel, who is considering joining the European Tour, would see it differently.

(Photograph omitted)