Yesterday, Els ended Ballesteros's dream of winning the World Match Play for a record sixth time in a magnetic match which finished, reluctantly for a crowd of more than 16,000, at the 35th hole. 'I had goosebumps,' Els said. This championship may not have the world's top two in the rankings but it has match play, it has the venue, it has an Indian autumn and it had, in three of the four matches yesterday, an irresistible script. The message that emerged was that the king is getting older and the pretenders are no longer pretending.
Having handed off Ballesteros, Els will play another, younger, Spaniard, Jose-Maria Olazabal - the US Open champion against the Masters champion - in the second semi-final today. In the first, Colin Montgomerie, who also had a terrific tussle with his hero Nick Faldo, meets Vijay Singh, who knocked out the defending champion, Corey Pavin. On the same course back in the summer, Olazabal overhauled Els to win the Volvo PGA Championship. This, however, is a different ball game.
Els may not have watched Ballesteros's demolition of the South African David Frost on Thursday, but he was aware that the Spaniard made 13 birdies in 29 holes. 'I knew he was going to make a couple today,' Els said. 'To make 13 again was a lot to ask for, but he came close.' Closer than he thinks.
In fact, Ballesteros made 14 birdies yesterday and the pair of them had so many twos it could have been a match made by Noah. Ballesteros had seven and the standard was such that four of them earned him only a halved hole. Imagine, then, how magnificently Els played. 'To beat a great man, especially when he's on form, you have to play well,' Els said. 'I knew I had to keep at him and I knew I had to make a good start.'
He did better than that. At the third, he hit an eight-iron straight into the hole from about 140 yards for an eagle two. Not even Ballesteros could match that and from there on the South African always held the upper hand, even if it was only with thumb and forefinger.
It seemed that whatever Ballesteros did Els could either match it or better it. Having gone into lunch with a 64, at which point he was two up, Els had another eagle at the 22nd, trumping Ballesteros's birdie with a 50-foot putt. Having cut the deficit to one with another brilliant two at the 32nd, Ballesteros contemplated using a three-wood off the tee at the 15th. Had he been level or ahead he probably would have, but he pulled out the driver and smashed it left into the trees.
Montgomerie went the distance with Faldo and afterwards the Scotsman looked totally drained. 'It was important for me to go forward and win today,' Montgomerie said. 'It was a good yardstick against a man I respect and admire. The game needs somebody to come through.' In the 1991 World Match Play, Montgomerie was beaten by Faldo at the 38th. 'I wasn't really ready to win then,' Montgomerie said.
This was another low scoring match but, as in the Ernie-Seve epic, Monty had the edge and he finally managed to tip Faldo over it. Faldo, the winner in 1989 and 1992, came up with two eagles and nine birdies and it was not good enough. Four down after 20 holes, he got it back to all square by the 26th but promptly lost the 27th by driving left. 'It was a key hole,' Monty said. 'If I'd ever gone one down he'd have gone on to win.'
By the 30th, Montgomerie had gone three up again and again Faldo came back at him. At the 36th, Monty's lead was down to one but, as in last year's final against Pavin, Faldo could not find the fairway. He drove into the bunker on the left, made as much ground as he could out of the sand with a six-iron and chipped to within three feet of the hole. He hurled the club away in disgust. It was not in reaction to that shot, but to the errant drive. Faldo never had a chance to putt for Montgomerie was on the green in two. 'I'll be his Ryder Cup partner if he'll have me,' Faldo said of the Scotsman. Montgomerie took this as the 'ultimate compliment'.
Pavin hardly put a foot wrong -67 in the morning, 67 in the afternoon - and when he got a two at the 32nd, where he hit a six-iron to four feet, he was one up. He lost the 34th, won the 35th and lost the 36th, taking a five to a four after missing a nine-foot putt. Singh, who got up and down from a bunker to square the match at the last, won it at the first extra hole with a par. He was ready for his bed.
In the final quarter-final, Olazabal, despite suffering from a sore hip, ground down Brad Faxon. The American had five birdies in the morning and was two down. Olazabal, making only his fourth appearance in the championship, took the lead at the second hole and was never headed.
TODAY'S TEE-OFF TIMES: 8.45 and 1.15 V Singh (Fiji) v C Montgomerie (GB); 9.0 and 1.30 E Els (SA) v J-M Olazabal (Sp).
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