Golf: Singh swings into the reckoning

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The Independent Online
Abraham Lincoln did not have the World Match Play in mind when he said you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. When Mark McCormack described the field for the 34th championship as "extraordinarily good" he was being extraordinarily economical with the truth.

The field contained just one of the season's four major winners, Ernie Els, the defending champion. No Tiger Woods, the Masters champion, no Justin Leonard, the Open champion, and no Davis Love, the USPGA champion. And no world No 1, Greg Norman.

However they had Tsukasa Watanabe, ranked 169th in the world, the token appearance of a Japanese player to satisfy the sponsors. Yesterday's semi-finals were close and not without drama but - the World Match Play?

When McCormack, the head of IMG, devised the format in 1964, the championship was won by Arnold Palmer and it captured the public imagination. The World Match Play continued to live up to its name with a role of honour that read like golf's Who's Who. In recent years the entry has simply prompted the enquiry: who?

Earlier in the week, McCormack inadvertently identified one of the reasons for the championship's devaluation. He thought the United States lost the Ryder Cup at Valderrama because the Americans had become too soft and too spoilt by life on a privileged tour which gave them free hotel rooms, meals, courtesy cars and even nurseries, not to mention huge amounts of money. Yet it was precisely this sort of five-star treatment that McCormack introduced into the World Match Play and elsewhere. He set the standard. The treatment is the same but the difference is that he can't muster five stars to enjoy it.

The most powerful agent since that chap matched David against Goliath has been hoist by his own success. In helping to make most of his players millionaires and then some, McCormack can no longer guarantee their appearance at his own events, Woods being a classic example. Next year IMG might have to look for a new sponsor, for the impression here is that Toyota will today announce that they have reached the end of the Burma Road.

The prize money is pounds 650,000, a lot to be shared between 12 players, but it has not increased in four years. Not that any of this will bother Vijay Singh, who yesterday reached his second successive final, thus guaranteeing himself a minimum of pounds 90,000.

The lanky Fijian overpowered the American Ryder Cup player Brad Faxon four and three on a day when relentless rain put the water into Virginia Water. The ground staff, using what looked like the heavy roller from Old Trafford, worked Canute-like to keep the matches afloat. Without their labours - at one point they shored up cups with putty - play would have been impossible.

This did not stop Singh, the nearest thing to a European left in the championship on account of his house in Chiswick, from wearing a sun visor. Singh was four up after five holes, eight up after 16 and he went into lunch six up. He had gone round in a hugely impressive 65.

Singh has not been stretched throughout the championship. In the first round he put out Watanabe four and three and in the second brushed aside Steve Elkington five and four.

Faxon, to his credit, gave Vijay a run for his money in the afternoon. But despite making three birdies in four holes and going to the turn in 33, he found himself seven down.

Still the American refused to throw in the towel, winning the 28th, 29th, 30th and 32nd holes by which stage he was three down. Vijay ended the uprising with a solid four at the 33rd where his opponent missed the fairway right, found a bunker with his second and then did what he had not been doing all afternoon - missed a six-foot putt.

In today's final there is a feeling of deja-vu but Singh said: "I'm hitting the ball well and I'm putting well. If I carry on like this I must have an excellent chance." If he's a good swimmer.