Golf: Woods on top of the world

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The Independent Online
AFTER TOYING with the World Cup field in Malaysia for the first couple of days, Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara yesterday raised their game and eased the United States into what should be an unassailable lead. With a round to go they are 23 under par, seven strokes in front of Spain with Argentina third a further six shots adrift.

It took the Americans those two days to unlock the secrets of the Mines Course on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur but once they did they played flawlessly to record individual scores of 63 and 67. All credit to Miguel Martin and Santiago Luna of Spain, who have played alongside Woods and O'Meara these past two days, for staying in touch for as long as they have.

On Friday they actually out-scored the Americans to lead at halfway and over the opening holes yesterday briefly went further ahead. But when both made errors at the eighth America drew level and then steamed away over the final nine holes. A three-putt by O'Meara at the last was the only time either he or Woods went over par.

With the American birdie and eagle tally clicking up like a World Cup rugby score it is no wonder that all other contenders fell away in the oppressive heat and humidity. Each day it has been noticeable that good scores were made over the first nine holes and preserved coming home as the heat rose.

The home nations have acquitted themselves competently and all bar Scotland would have felt they were in with a chance at start of play yesterday. Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington, winners for Ireland two years ago, are best placed on seven under par. Their challenge foundered when they collectively dropped three shots at the ninth. Behind them Peter Baker and Mark James have laboured diligently but without great reward and when they too frittered shots away around the turn their hopes of defending the title Nick Faldo and David Carter won last year evaporated.

Phillip Price and David Park would not perhaps have had great expectations of becoming the second Welsh pair to win this event but Price has played out of his boots and with a personal score of 10 under par is in second place in the individual competition, five shots behind Woods, who is chasing his fifth individual trophy in his last six tournaments. Park, who started the year on the Challenge Tour before winning on the big one in mid-summer, supported him ably for two rounds before stumbling to a 75 yesterday.

Colin Montgomerie never looks comfortable in Turkish-bath conditions and that, allied to a totally understandable weariness, has meant a lacklustre week. Once his partner Dean Robertson could do no better than 75 on the first day the individual title was really all that remained and for Monty that was not enough to tap his dwindling adrenalin resources.

It comes as no surprise that this is to be the last World Cup in this format. It has struggled in recent years without the resources of a single ambitious sponsor to put up the sums necessary to tempt the best from their lair at this time of year. The Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews is now the pre-eminent nations tournament and it will be interesting to see how it prospers within the World Golf Championship series.

It will re-emerge in a year's time, slimmed down with a doubled purse and a qualification system based on the world rankings. The four-round aggregate medal format is to be done away with and foursomes will become part of the mix. For that reason alone we must wish it the very best of health.