Golf: Els forges ahead

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The Independent Online
NOT A single shot separated Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie after 72 holes of the US Open at Oakmont in June. Yesterday, after playing 36 holes together in the Mercedes German Masters here, the difference between them was 18.

While Els, who won the US Open in a play-off against Montgomerie and Loren Roberts, gave a virtuoso demonstration of how to demolish a golf course, poor old Monty looked as though he had gone a tournament too far. Els followed his opening 63 with a 64 and leads the field with a 17-under-par 127, seven shots ahead of Jose Maria Olazabal.

The 24-year-old South African also set a record for the largest two-round lead at a European tour event this season. Montgomerie, however, failed to survive the cut by one shot, despite three birdies in his last five holes. At least the Scot has the consolation of knowing that Els's assault virtually ensures that he will be crowned the European No 1 for a second successive year.

Montgomerie's form has been impressively consistent of late, but this tournament was his eighth in a row, and his 20th in 23 weeks. Afterwards he admitted to being tired: 'I have been playing too much golf recently.'

Provided Els does not self- destruct over the final two rounds, then the chances of Montgomerie being overhauled in the Volvo Order of Merit by Bernhard Langer, who currently trails him by more than pounds 180,000, look extremely remote.

Els was fresh after a week's break. 'I hit 17 greens in regulation, so that's about as well as I can play,' he said after carding nine birdies, seven of them on the front nine, and just one bogey. 'Monty was a little tired this week, and I'm fresh because I missed the Lancome Trophy last week. This is the best I have ever done over two rounds.'

Olazabal, who had his second successive 67, is two shots clear of a group of four players in third place on 136 - the Fijian Vijay Singh, who won the Lancome winner, and a trio of Englishmen, Peter Baker, Peter Mitchell and Adam Hunter. Langer and Nick Faldo are in an eight-strong cluster on seven under, and Seve Ballesteros is among a similar number on 138.

At the less fashionable end of the field four of the tour's lesser lights - Paul Eales, Andrew Murray, Jonathan Lomas and the German Alexander Cejka - were disqualified for missing their tee-off times. Despite setting off at 5.45am for a journey that would normally take an hour, they ran into a 12- mile tailback and needed three and three-quarter hours to travel the 30 miles from Berlin.

For Murray,the experience was particularly galling. 'I have been a pro for 22 years, and I have never been late on the tee before - not even for a pro- am,' he lamented.

He and Eales had originally wanted to stay at a hotel four miles from Motzener See, but they were told they could not be given transport to the course, hence the switch to Berlin.

'We are not big enough fish to make the tournament run for our benefit,' Murray said. 'But where are Nick Faldo or Bernhard Langer staying? Five minutes from the course.'

The four were a collective 13 under par after their first rounds. Their departure, therefore, benefited the seven players who finished on 144, level par, and otherwise would almost certainly not have been playing in today's third round. 'They all owe me a drink,' said Eales.

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