Golf: `El Gato' slams door on Norman

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The Independent Online
IT IS a precarious business holding a ticket for a reserved seat around the 18th green at a matchplay tournament. Matches can easily end out in the country but, on Thursday at La Costa, the 18th was the only place to be. While the upsets continued in the second round of the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay Championship, the drama level upped considerably.

Within moments there were two approach shots played at the last that will enter folklore, should this new event ever take a place its place in history. There was one theory abounding that a tournament does not take on true significance unless Greg Norman has blown a certain victory, by which yardstick this event is well on the way to becoming the fifth major.

Norman, who has lost playoffs for all four majors and has had as many titles ripped away from him as he has had handed on a plate, was at it again in his second-round match against Eduardo Romero.

The Argentinian, known as `El Gato', should have been devoured by the Shark when Norman was three up with four to play. The Australian, in fact, had led from the very first hole and it looked as if Romero's sole contribution to the event was to be knocking out Lee Westwood on Wednesday.

No doubt if Romero and Norman had been playing in the final group of, say, the third round of a regular strokeplay tournament, Romero would have gone quiet, perhaps hoping to get on a roll the following day. But, there being no tomorrow for the loser, Romero had no option but to go on all-out attack. He birdied the 15th to get one hole back and then was handed another when Norman bogeyed the next.

The 17th was halved in par-fives which meant Romero came to the last one down. For his second shot, Romero had 169 yards to the flag into the wind. His seven-iron finished a foot from the hole and the birdie took the match into extra time. The 44-year-old from Cordoba, a veteran of the European tour, had a hole-in-one at the Qatar Masters a week ago which he described as "the best shot of my life" but he has swiftly had to upgrade the designation. "It had a little fade, left-to-right, perfect, perfect," Romero said.

"That shot was as good as any I have seen," added Norman. The Australian almost lost the contest at the second extra hole when his drive hit a cart path and bounced out of bounds but Romero missed his par putt. Faced with a 20-foot putt for birdie at the short third, Romero had no further mistake.

"I am very happy," Romero said. "You never know in matchplay what is coming on. I am a very hard guy when playing the matchplay. I have beaten two very good players and have a lot of confidence." The further he can progress in the tournament, the better his chances of reaching the top 50 in the world and an invitation to the US Masters. "It is my dream to play in the Masters. I have never played there so it would be fantastic."

Patrik Sjoland could also be making his debut at Augusta and, later in the year, at the Ryder Cup. The Swede will pick up a generous helping of qualifying points after beating Carlos Franco in the second round with another dramatic comeback. Sjoland was three down with seven to play before producing a remarkable spell of ball-striking.

Sjoland hit a seven-iron to 18 inches to win the 12th, a nine-iron to three feet to win the 15th, squared the match by holing from 20 feet at the 17th and hit a six-iron from 170 yards to less than a foot at the last, a shot every bit as good as Romero's. "I just can't believe it," the 27-year-old Swede said. "That stretch is definitely the best I have ever played. I knew it would take my best golf ever over the last seven holes to win and I managed it."

Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal also made it through to the third round for Europe but Tiger Woods, remarkably, was the only top-10 seed to make it. Woods only did so in another dramatic finish at the 18th, when Bob Tway missed a seven-footer to extend the match.

But the pretender to Woods' world No 1 crown, David Duval, was removed by Bill Glasson, 2 and 1. Duval, who last month shot a 59 to win his second tournament in a row, was never ahead and missed from eight foot for a par on the 17th to get the game alive.

"I didn't play particularly well and you get what you deserve when you don't play well," Duval said. He will take the next three weeks off, which will probably include his favourite relaxing pastime of snowboarding in the Idaho mountains.

"Everybody knows I'm not the biggest proponent of this format but beyond that I don't want to say anything because it makes me sound like I'm crying and I'm not. I got beaten and that is all there is to it."

SECOND-ROUND

SCORES

US unless stated Higher-ranked player listed first

V Singh (Fiji) lost to B Langer (Ger) 2 and 1

N Price (Zim) lost to J Maggert 1 hole

J Leonard lost to S Maruyama (Japan) 4 and 2

P Azinger lost to L Roberts 2 and 1

P Mickelson bt L Janzen 2 and 1

C Stadler lost to J Huston 2 and 1

C Parry (Aus) lost to S Cink 3 and 2

P Sjoland (Swe) bt C Franco (Par) 1 hole

E Romero (Arg) bt G Norman (Aus) at 21st

D Duval lost to B Glasson 2 and 1

T Woods bt B Tway 1 hole

A Magee bt T Bjorn (Den) 2 and 1

S Pate bt B Jobe 1 hole

S Jones bt S Verplank 5 and 4

F Couples bt S Hoch 1 hole

M Bradley lost J M Olazabal (Sp) 2 and 1

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