Golf: Day of the little big men

World Matchplay a triumph for the workaday touring pro as top names are shot down
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The Independent Online
ONE OF the marketing slogans for golf's new, shiny, globally- orientated series of World Championship events, of which the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay is but the first, goes something like this: "Now Destiny has a tee-time."

The only problem is that Joe Destiny took a leaf out of Jumbo Ozaki's book and did not bother to turn up at La Costa. Everyone may have a price but the prospect of winning $1m (pounds 625,000) was clearly neither Jumbo's nor Destiny's. By the time it came down to yesterday's all-American semi- finals, any possible combination for today's 36-hole final - in fact it is between Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee - would have had audiences reaching for the remote control, not just around the globe but all over the States.

The quartet of Maggert, Magee, Steve Pate and John Huston, who rank somewhere in-between distinguished and undistinguished, are all between 35 and 37, have a combined total of 16 US tour wins but no major titles, and 19 major top 10 places. Maggert, one of the players Colin Montgomerie suggested lacked any intimidation factor on the first tee prior to the last Ryder Cup, has had more second places than there were Europeans in the starting line up, 13 to 11.

Pate was injured in a minor motor car shunt at the 1991 Ryder Cup and had to sit out the singles. Magee, who was born in Paris, France, but lives nearer to Paris, Texas, lists whistling as an interest while Huston sleeps on a magnetic bedcover. At a press conference for the American team at the President's Cup last December, not a single question was put to Huston, prompting Fred Couples to say as he was leaving: "That's Huston, H, U, S, T, O, N."

It was "Huston, we have a problem" time when he found a rock by the water at the 17th and Magee chipped in to seal a 3 and 1 victory. Maggert came from three down with seven to play to beat Pate at the last.

The low-profile nature of the semi-finalists was always possible after a dramatic week of matchplay golf, and the tournament is still worth its place on the calendar. Each of the four must be given credit for winning their quarter-finals against men who seemed to have a closer affinity with that man Destiny.

Chief among those, of course, was Tiger Woods, the world No. 1 and the only leading seed to make it as far as Friday afternoon, but the Argentinian Eduardo Romero and Japan's Shigeki Maruyama were on inspired runs while Jose Maria Olazabal had a moody driver but was getting up and down from anywhere in southern California.

Woods' 2 and 1 defeat to Maggert puts the American alongside the likes of Paul Page, Gary Wolstenholme, Costantino Rocca and Santiago Luna as a Tiger-tamer. "He made a couple of key putts and was able to apply the pressure when I wasn't," said Woods.

"I have been saying all week that the rankings don't really mean much once you get here," Woods added. "Anybody can beat anybody." Unable to match his opponent for length, Maggert concentrated on accuracy and still managed to birdie three of the par-fives to Woods' two. "I targeted the par-fives and to be one up on those holes was a plus to me," Maggert said.

"Tiger is the best player out here, he's got a proven record and his matchplay form is impeccable. I knew I had to be five or six under and then I made a silly bogey at the first, but after that I was steady and Tiger didn't make as many putts as he normally does."

Maruyama was another loss on the personality front and he has added to the fine impression he made while compiling a 5-0 record in the President's Cup at Royal Melbourne. Maruyama saw Tom Watson win the US Masters in 1981 on television and immediately adopted the eight-time major champion as his hero. He remembers Watson smiling and waving as he walked up the 18th and it has clearly made a deep impression. The only difference is that Maruyama spends every hole smiling and waving as if he has won the Masters. "I am really good at the golf conversation," Maruyama said via his interpreter. "Otherwise I smile a lot and that takes care of everything."

It seems to help him hole putts and did so from off the green to half the 15th in birdie-threes against Magee. But he all but shanked a six- iron into the water at the 17th and lost at the last. Pate ended Romero's fine run, which included wins over Lee Westwood, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, while Huston beat Olazabal 2 and 1.

Ironically, it was only in the quarter-finals that Olazabal drove the ball to his satisfaction. "That's the positive thing I have taken from this week," he said. "I struck the ball well but I didn't score well."

Olazabal won pounds 93,750 to jump from 75th to sixth on the European Order of Merit. But after all the fuss about this week having a disproportional effect on the Ryder Cup points qualifying table, his move from 34th to 14th was the only major one. Patrik Sjoland, the Swede who impressed by reaching the third round, moved up from 11th to ninth and proved he will be worth a place at the Country Club at Brookline in September. Nick Faldo did not, and his first-round defeat by Woods promoted him from 36th to 32nd.