Golf: Lofty Els is Langer's torturer

World Match Play Championship: Defending champion to meet Elkington in the final
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The Independent Online
EVERY professional golfer has putters in his loft. The clubs are consigned there as outcasts, a punishment for having missed an important three-footer somewhere along the line. Yesterday Bernhard Langer, whose history on the greens is as gory as anything from the Tower of London, went against the grain. He asked for loft in his putter.

In the semi-finals of the Toyota World Match Play Championship, Langer went into lunch one down against the defending champion, Ernie Els. At least he should have gone into lunch. Instead the German, after missing a 15-foot putt on the 18th to lose the hole, disappeared into the Wilson caravan, where his putter was placed in a vice and subjected to all forms of torture.

"I wanted more loft," Langer explained. "Basically the putter was doing all the damage. I found the greens very slow and I was leaving the putts short." With the blade of his putter suitably altered, Langer then retreated into the physiotherapy unit, another torture chamber, to put some more loft into his spinal column. It nearly worked, but in the end Els maintained his unbeaten record with a one-hole victory, and in today's final for the pounds 170,000 first prize will meet Steve Elkington, who put out Costantino Rocca 3 and 1.

The start was delayed by an hour, and Langer struck the first blow with an eagle at the fourth, where he holed from six feet. But he missed from five feet at the 12th and from four at the 15th. Els went one up at the 18th, where he conjured up a birdie four after having driven into a bunker.

In the afternoon Langer and Els could not find a birdie between them on the front nine. If you favoured a golfer in terms of freshness, Els was your man. The South African had played one tournament in five weeks, whereas Langer had played five matches in the Ryder Cup, won the European Open in Ireland and was runner-up in the German Masters in the past three weeks. Afterwards the 38-year-old said that if he was not seeded in the event in future he would not play. "It's too much for me to play 36 holes a day at my age."

At the 26th hole the sequence of par golf was broken when Els had a bogey five, his first of the championship, and at the next the figures were transposed. They both went out in 36, but then Langer and his remodelled putter moved up a gear. He got down from 20 feet, 25 feet and four feet for birdies, and when he sank a putt of 18 feet for another three at the 33rd he had the lead, albeit by one. However, Els made it all square with a birdie at the 34th and went one up with another at the penultimate hole. It proved decisive as Langer missed from nine feet at the 35th and from less at the last.

The other semi-final was also on a knife-edge until the closing holes, where Elkington, with an eagle at the 30th and birdies at the 34th and 35th, overcame the brave challenge of Rocca. The Italian had four birdies in the afternoon and would have had more but for leaving putts short. Rocca has about 100 putters in his loft. What he needed was more loft in his putter.

Last week, punters involved in spread betting were bemused by a conflict over some of the results from Wentworth. In the first round Colin Montgomerie was credited, officially, with beating David Duval by two holes. One up playing the last, Monty was assured of a four, and Duval, who could not beat that, conceded without taking his putt, which could have given him a four. The etiquette in such matters is that the match, rather than the hole, is conceded.

In the second round, a similar thing happened in the Montgomerie-Elkington match. The official result, according to Mike Stewart, the chief referee, was victory by 3 and 1 to Elkington, but nearly everybody else, including the Press Association, which sends out the results, made it 2 and 1. None of this pedantry over the score would matter but for the introduction of spread betting, in which the margins of results can be measured in hard cash. Sporting Index, specialists in spread betting, needed clarification this week, and were told to recognise "official" scores only. The trouble for punters is that the newspapers would have had different scores. Stewart was sufficiently concerned to seek guidance from the game's ruling body, the Royal and Ancient, and yesterday he was awaiting word from St Andrews.

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