Golf: Europeans struggle as seeds fall

Westwood, Montgomerie and Faldo beaten as world rankings are again turned on their head
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The Independent Online
IT IS indisputably the case that golf is not tennis, which is just one reason why the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay Championship is not being played in a tent in Battersea Park but at a resort named La Costa in southern California. It is a good place to catch some winter sun and, the week after half-term, the flights need not be exorbitant. Unless, of course, circumstances prevent topping up the tan for as long as expected and arrangements need to be changed.

Given they can afford changeable first-class tickets, and that it was not necessary to complete 18 holes to collect pounds 15,625, this was almost, but not quite, the situation the five British players found themselves in on Wednesday evening. They may have arrived with degrees of expectation varying between the hopeful and the hopeless, but Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo were united in their failure to secure a tee time for yesterday morning's second round.

Reading the local newspaper's sports section was not an alternative for the quintet: "Now boarding at Gate 19, the Aloha Special. Passengers with British passports, Florida driver's licenses and high seeding numbers please form a line. On the menu tonight will be hard cheese and hemlock. This will be a non-smoking flight. And no snivelling, either. You guys didn't lose, you got beat."

All that can be said is that they were in good company. As the fifth and sixth seeds, Westwood and Montgomerie had were predicted to have a long run in the event, but then so were Mark O'Meara (the third seed), Davis Love (4th) and Ernie Els (7th). Only Tiger Woods and David Duval survived from the top-seven seeds and out of the 32 matches, 17 were won by the lower-ranked player. Which is where all the references to golf not being tennis come in.

"This isn't tennis where a sixth seed gets beaten by the 60th and it's a big shock," said Paul Azinger, who beat Els by one hole. "The players'll know the rankings are pretty silly." O'Meara, the World Match Play champion at Wentworth, was on his way to a family skiing holiday in Utah after losing to Michael Bradley. "You can call it an upset, but Michael is a fine player and I didn't play well today."

While Els may have found it difficult to refocus so soon after his victory effort in Los Angeles on Sunday, some of the European players may have suffered from lack of competitive action so far this season.

All the US Tour players have been active on the West Coast swing, with Duval winning twice and Woods once. Montgomerie has played just once after a two-month break, and Westwood twice, with contrasting results of missing a cut and then finishing second in Dubai. Neither looked sharp enough to take their rivals the full distance and this is one event where there is no room for slowly playing yourself in.

"My whole game was off and I don't know what to put it down to," Westwood said after his 3 and 2 defeat to Eduardo Romero. "I am going home for two weeks off." Montgomerie attempted to keep a low profile in the run- up to the event, but still suffered a recurrence of the heckling which dogged in the States last year. As he was about to play his second shot, from the rough at the 15th - he was four down to Craig Stadler at the time - a spectator chided the Scot by saying: "You've got one more shot left."

The assessment may have proved correct but that does not save it from being ill-mannered. "It was not exactly sporting-like, whoever it was," said Stadler. "I think I gave him a longer stare than Monty did."

According to Woods, it was a mobile phone ringing on his downswing that caused Faldo to sky his tee shot at the short 14th into the trees. The ball came down barely 100 yards from the tee, short of the water in front of the green and Faldo stared after it in bewilderment.

The slow-motion analysis of the swing brought to mind Mark McNulty's assertion that Faldo was hitting shots like a 24-handicapper and should have been shown on British screens, only after the evening watershed because of the time difference.

Only four of the 11 Europeans in the field made it to the second round with Thomas Bjorn, Patrik Sjoland and Jose Maria Olazabal all recording fine wins on Wednesday. The extra room off the tee at La Costa helped Olazabal overcome his inconsistent driving and the Spaniard responded to being two down after six holes against Billy Mayfair by winning seven of the next nine. "It is no fun when you are hitting the ball sideways as I did," said Ollie, "but you have to stick at it and try your guts out."


US unless stated (higher-ranked player first)

N Price (Zim) bt F Minoza (Phil) 4 & 3

J Leonard bt M A Jimenez (Sp) 4 & 3

S Stricker lost to S Maruyama (Japan) 3 & 2

P Mickelson bt N Ozaki (Japan) 3 & 2

J Maggert bt F Funk 2 holes

J Furyk lost to P Sjoland (Swe) 5 & 3

L Janzen bt G Day 3 & 2

V Singh (Fiji) bt R Mediate 5 & 3

M Calcavecchia lost to C Franco (Par) 2 & 1

B Langer (Ger) bt B Faxon 4 & 2

L Westwood (GB) lost to E Romero (Arg) 3 & 2

C Montgomerie (GB) lost to C Stadler 5 & 3

E Els (SA) lost to P Azinger 1 hole

H Sutton lost to L Roberts 5 & 4

G Norman (Aus) bt J Cook 3 & 2

J Huston bt B Estes 3 & 2

J Parnevik (Swe) lost to C Parry (Aus) 1 hole

P Stewart lost to S Cink 3 & 2

S Hoch bt I Woosnam (GB) 3 & 2

D Clarke (GB) lost to A Magee 1 hole

T Woods bt N Faldo (GB) 4 & 3

F Couples bt D Hart 2 holes

S Elkington (Aus) lost to S Jones 2 & 1

T Watson lost to B Tway 6 & 4

T Lehman lost to S Verplank 3 & 1

D Duval bt S Leaney (Aus) 2 & 1

S Appleby (Aus) lost to B Glasson 2 & 1

J Sluman lost to B Jobe 3 & 2

M O'Meara lost to M Bradley 4 & 2

J M Olazabal (Sp) bt B Mayfair 5 & 3

B Watts lost to T Bjorn (Den) 1 hole

D Love lost to S Pate 1 hole