Golf: Els leaves his rivals trailing in his wake

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The Independent Online
HEAVEN help the opposition once Ernie Els gets his driving under control. He remained fallible off the tee, but at the half-way stage of the Desert Classic he had increased his lead to six strokes, and it was beginning to look like a contest between the camel and the tortoise.

Yesterday, the 24-year-old South African shot 69 in the second round and, if that paled in comparison to his 61 on Thursday, it was a perfectly respectable score under the circumstances. Els stands at 14 under par and the distant pack is led by Gary Evans, Sam Torrance and Paul Broadhurst, at eight under. Els, who has been pushing his drives, retired to the practice ground to work on his swing. 'It's not a major problem,' he said. 'I'm going to try and attack tomorrow.'

'I couldn't care less how Els is playing,' Evans said. 'All I know is that I'm playing very well.' Evans, who is 24, also shot 69. 'I'm just hoping that for the first time since I came on the tour I will be able to have a full year at this game without anything coming up.'

Two years ago he was pipped, by Jim Payne, for the 'Rookie of the Year' award. Last season, a number of factors affected him, including the loss of his father. He did not exactly become a bar fly but yesterday he admitted: 'I was drinking more than was good for me. I found myself having a drink just for the sake of it.' Evans, who has not had a drink for a month, has bet Mark Mouland pounds 50 that he will stay on the wagon for the season. 'He wanted to wager pounds 500,' Evans said, 'but I thought I might need one if I won a tournament.'

He still believes that he can win over the Emirates course here, and he might have been closer to Els had he not broken the shaft of his six-iron while playing his ball from under a palm tree on the third hole. His only bogey of the day came at the next hole, the short fourth. He wanted to hit a six-iron, was forced to use the five, and deposited his ball in the water.

Torrance, who shot 67, remarked that he had never played better, but Broadhurst, who also scored 67, could not understand how he is featuring on the leaderboard. 'Nobody's more amazed than myself,' Broadhurst said. 'It's a funny old game.' Had he received a dirham for every time that has been uttered, he would be top of the Order of Merit.

Torrance, who by virtue of finishing in the top 15 in last season's merit table will be able to play in his first US Open in 24 years in June, is hitting the ball 30 yards further off the tee with a new metal driver. 'I've played this course for five years and I'm now hitting it to places I've never been before,' the Scotsman said. He had 16 chances for birdies from within 20 feet - and made four of them.

Torrance is sporting a beard, which helps to protect him from the sun. 'You don't see many Arabs without a beard,' he said. Nothing could protect Fred Couples, who missed the half-way cut following a 76. Couples, receiving appearance money to play here, refused to comment. Doubtless he reflected that golf is a funny old game.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 25