Golf: Tiger's all-American dream

World Matchplay: Woods shoots down partisan gallery as he tees up final against mentor O'Meara
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The Independent Online
AS LEE WESTWOOD finally ran out of steam, Tiger Woods finally moved up a gear to book himself a place in the final of the Cisco World Match Play Championship against his friend and mentor, Mark O'Meara. The contest, which has been previewed many a time at their home course of Isleworth in Florida, will be the first all-American final for 23 years.

As well as Westwood had played on the first two days, the fact that he was 21 under for 64 holes was probably most relevant for the latter figure. Though he led early on, Westwood succumbed in the afternoon round 5 and 4 as Woods made sure he did not have to return this morning to finish off the match.

Heavy overnight rain had delayed the start and a close encounter between the 22-year-old American star and Europe's 25-year-old star-in-the-making, as expected, would have struggled to finish before darkness fell. As it is, O'Meara will have a significant advantage after making short shrift of the Fijian Vijay Singh in record-breaking manner, winning 11 and 10.

"It will be fun playing Mark," said Woods, 19 years O'Meara's junior. "I know he wants to beat me and I definitely want to beat him. It is not often you get to go head-to-head. But I'll be happy if he wins and he'll be happy if I win."

While Westwood enjoyed huge home support, Woods felt some comments overstepped the mark. "I was shocked by some of the things that were said," Woods admitted. It did not affect him, however, as he single-putted seven of the last eight greens.

That was where the matches was decided, for Westwood struggled with his putter throughout. "The putter felt like a slippery fish all day," Westwood said. "I could not get comfortable however I held the putter. I was awful on the greens."

Westwood, as one might expect from such a confident young man, has pretensions of being the best player in the world and a match against the world No 1 was a chance to boost his stock a week before he goes to Jerez in Spain to wrestle the European No 1 spot away from Colin Montgomerie.

But when the Westwood household woke up this morning, the 17th green, which their Art Deco accommodation overlooks, was under water. The greenkeeping staff were out at 6am to start pumping water out of the bunkers and off the fairways, and when the rain finally stopped were able to clear the greens to allow an 11am start.

As only the second man in 13 matches to defeat Ernie Els at Wentworth, Westwood had shown his matchplay mettle the previous day. Woods had sneaked past Ian Woosnam at the 37th, as he has a tendency to do in the head-to- head format, but had shown he is still new to a course that takes some understanding. "It is growing on me," Woods said.

At both the first and the third, Woods was left of the fairway and left of the green. He was two over and two down. It took until the seventh for the American to hit a fairway but he lost the hole anyway and Westwood was three-up.

This was thanks to a remarkable half at the sixth, where Westwood careered his drive out of bounds on the right and into the garden of one of the estate's more mansionesque properties. One of Westwood's strengths is his ability to dismiss such bad shots and though the short par-four does not call for the biggest club in the bag off the tee, he selected the driver again and split the fairway.

His sand-iron approach finished nine feet away and he holed for a five, which Woods failed to match when he could not get up and down from a greenside bunker. The momentum shifted at the start of the back nine. Westwood went over the back of the green at the short 10th to bogey the hole, while Woods birdied the 13th and 16th to square the contest.

Like Woosnam the previous day, Westwood had chances to keep the Tiger caged but missed three times from inside 12 feet to win holes on the back nine. One of those was at the 12th, where Woods pulled his drive into a ditch in the trees and played a brilliant recovery back to the fairway on the way to halving the hole in par. "I knew that if I could get a half there it would be huge," Woods said.

Level at lunch - all 20 minutes of it - would have been a fair reflection but Westwood went from bunker to bunker at the 18th while Woods two-putted to go ahead for the first time. Neither player had managed to catch fire like O'Meara - Woods was round in 71 and Westwood level par - but the encounter was intriguing. The American won the first in the afternoon with a par but bogeyed the third again.

With the margin only one hole, Woods changed the complexion of the match irrevocably by winning four holes out of six from the seventh. He birdied the seventh and eighth from eight feet and then produced the masterstroke of holing from outside Westwood for another at the tenth. His tee shot had finished 30 feet away and though Westwood was only 15 feet away, the putt must have suddenly looked much further and the match out of sight.

Masterful O'Meara, page 3