Golf: Gilfors stays serene ahead of the pack

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The Independent Online
THEY say no one ever remembers who came second. They do not always recall who finished first, either. David Gilford is so quiet and undemonstrative that it is often forgotten he has won five times in his nine-year professional career.

Today he might make it six. After three rounds of the European Open at East Sussex National here, Gilford, who turns 29 on Wednesday, is on 208, eight under par, following a 70 yesterday, and leads by two shots from Costantino Rocca and by three from Jose Maria Olazabal.

Gilford appears to wear a perpetual expression of benign bemusement, but he knows what he is doing on the golf course. His unflappable demeanour means he seldom looks thrilled, even when he birdied three holes in four from the seventh, or angry, such as when he ran up a double-bogey after leaving his ball in a bunker at the 11th.

But when he holed a 60-foot birdie putt from off the green to remedy some of that damage at the 12th, even he could not suppress a laugh, and a birdie-three to close with left him pretty happy, too. 'I hit the ball well and made a few nice putts,' he said. 'I think you are always going to drop shots on a course like this.'

Olazabal, the Masters champion, is seeking his fifth title of the year. He had four birdies in the first 10 holes before consecutive bogeys at the 14th and 15th hampered his cause, but he retrieved one shot with a three at the 17th.

A popular saying this week has been that we have regularly experienced four seasons in one day. Yesterday was pure Vivaldi. The morning was bright and blustery while early afternoon brought a few apocalyptic downpours.

In between erecting and collapsing umbrellas and donning and shedding waterproofs, Craig Cassells distinguished himself by joining Olazabal as the only men to break 70.

Colin Montgomerie, the runaway leader of the Order of Merit who this week is gunning for his third victory from four starts, was not best pleased after a shank into a bunker at the sixth, but there, as elsewhere, his putter saved par from the five- yard range, and his 73 might not only have been much worse but it leaves him still in contention.

After shooting a 73 for 219 yesterday, Ernie Els, the 24- year-old South African who beat Montgomerie in a play-off for the US Open in June, revealed that he will only play five European tour events next season. He is going to live in Florida and concentrate on the US circuit.

And after a week in which Seve Ballesteros has complained about the pervasive influence of IMG in Europe, Els divulged that he has refused to bow to pressure to withdraw from the IMG-run Dunhill Masters that starts at Woburn on Thursday in order to play instead in the inaugural President's Cup, a quasi-Ryder Cup encounter near Washington that will pitch the United States against a team from the Rest of the World except Europe (nifty title, don't you think?).

At the USPGA Championship last month, Els was criticised by David Graham, the international team's captain, for not joining the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Price in his squad. 'Els will have egg on his face,' Graham told the American press, who have been distinctly less than excited about the President's Cup, in common with many of the top American players.

Rejecting the veracity and justice of Graham's prediction, Els said yesterday: 'There will be a lot more President's Cups to play in.' Given its lukewarm reception, I would not bet on it, Ernie.

Els added that his commitment to the Dunhill Masters was in part an acknowledgement of the tobacco firm's South African connections. He might also have pointed out that Dunhill is the sponsor of the Southern Africa versus Australasia match next February, in which he is playing and for which his manager, Sam Feldman, has been the prime mover.

You can take sport out of politics, but these days it is increasingly difficult to take the politics out of sport.